Winslow Homer

(24 February 1836 - 29 September 1910)

Born in Boston, he was devoted to art from his childhood. At the age of nineteen he entered the employment of a lithographer in Boston where he remained until he was twenty-one. In 1859 he settled in New York, studying in the schools of the National Academy and under F. Rondel. He has furnished book and newspaper illustrations for the Harpers and other publishers. At the outbreak of the Civil War he went to Washington, D. C, sending war-pictures to Harper's Weekly. His first works in oil were painted about this time, including
"Prisoners from the Front,"
"Home, Sweet Home,"
"Zouaves Pitching Quoits," and others of a similar character, which first brought him prominently before the public as an artist.

He went to Europe in 1867 or 1868, making a brief stay. He was elected an Associate of the National Academy in 1864, and Academician the following year. He is a member of the Society of Painters in Water-Colors, contributing regularly to its exhibitions, and to the annual exhibitions of the National Academy. Among Homer's works are,

"The Bright Side" "As You Like It" "A Visit from the Old Mistress"
"Sunday Morning" "The Trysting-Place" "Course of True Love"
"Milking-Time" "Uncle Ned at Home" "Flowers for the Teacher"
"Fly Fishing" "In Charge of the Baby" "The Gardener's Daughter"
"After the Bath" "The Blackboard" "Sunday Morning in Virginia"
"School-Time" "In the Garden" "The Dinner-Hour"
"In the Field" "The American Type" "A Country School-room"
"The Busy Bee" "Snap the Whip" "Four-Leafed Clover"
"Dad's Coming" "Prisoners from the Front"

"Homer's "Prisoners from the Front,"
an actual scene in the War for the Union, has attracted more attention, and with the exception of some inadequacy of color, has won more praise, than any genre picture from a native hand that has appeared of late years." -- Tuckerman's Book of the Artists.

The expression of the figures is intense, full of meaning, and the tenacity of his grasp upon the essential points of character and natural fact is very decided. No recent work of this artist has equaled the remarkable excellence of his celebrated "Prisoners from the Front," an incident of the late war, which is a unique work in American art; but all his pictures have the merit of genuine motive and aim. They are often bold and crude in treatment, and unskillful in technical method, while breadth is sometimes attained by the sacrifice of essential details which greater maturity of power would supply without loss to the former, for true breadth is not vacuity. It contains the sense of fullness, if not the actual facts of detail. But that this artist evinces unique power and originality the slightest of his works amply testities, and his aim is a sincere and true one." -- Prof. Weib's Official Report of the Amcricun Centennial Exhibition of 1876.

"Homer paints with an apparent unconsciousness of all schools of art, and of every method other than his own. Without the least presumption he is always rigidly faithful to his own perceptions. He paints the life that he sees as he sees it, never softens a line or modifies a feature, or yields for a moment to any soft seductions of beauty." -- Art Journal, May, 1877.

Artists of the Nineteenth Century & their Works; Biographical Sketches. By Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton, 1879.

Winslow Homer's restless curiosity, profound love of nature, and enterprising character propelled his lifelong interest in travel. Whether he was in Gloucester, the Adirondacks, Maine, or Bermuda, the artist used his exceptional artistic talent to brilliantly capture the spirit of a place. His use of watercolor was ideal for traveling, and his superb handling of the medium allowed him to convey the intensity of his experiences in nature and the immediacy of a particular location's light and color.

In Watercolors by Winslow Homer Martha Tedeschi writes: "Travel compelled him to see and paint new environments, to shift his color palette, and to expand his range of subjects; in many ways it became his ongoing education, a way to expand himself as an artist and to realize his themes in new circumstances." "There's no question that one of the principle themes of Homer's career was nostalgia and the way it related to the American landscape.

While his style and choice of subject were markedly different from the Hudson River School artists, his belief that nature was "elemental" and at the "heart of American culture," as Theodore Stebbins writes, "puts him squarely in line with their beliefs in the role of art." That said, the heightened spiritual component and monumental scale of the more operatic Hudson River School paintings did not apply to Homer's presentation of nature. Instead his observations yielded quiet, even humble, depictions of the landscape or sunny, idyllic views that harkened back to a simpler time.

Homer first visited Gloucester, Massachusetts in the summer of 1873. He returned in 1880 to work in the quiet seclusion of Ten Pound Island, a tiny islet in Gloucester Harbor. The town had become a popular tourist destination by 1880, but Homer eschewed the bustle of the crowds and rented a room away from the center of town. This isolation had a positive impact on his artistic output and allowed him to experiment and further develop his watercolor technique.
"Schooners at Anchor",
which was painted in Gloucester in 1880, demonstrates Homer's evolving mastery of the watercolor medium and his ability to respond to and capture the look and feel of this particular place. The freshness and vitality of his handling of the light in the sea and sky heighten the overall sense of wellness and beneficial effects of being outdoors. This work and most of Homer's watercolors of the American landscape satisfied the need for a different, and one might argue more modern, expression of national identity in art. Gail Davidson writes: "He, like Church, traveled to remote locations for his artwork, but he was searching less for divine confirmation than a decent resort... His images captured the eyes and imaginations of the independent and active readers of periodicals... and accounts of resort areas." As leisure, sportsmanship, health, and tourism came to greater define Americans' idea of themselves, Homer responded with dexterously executed images of his country's good citizens and spectacular landscape, which beckoned many of his viewers to get outside and see America for themselves.

View painter's art: Winslow Homer (1836-1910) [new window view]