Winslow Homer

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American

a survey of works: ‘Cross-Currents’, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

 

The artist was born in Boston. 

 

1857: Apprenticed first as a lithographer, Homer set up his own shop and, using wood engraving, began a career as a successful illustrator.  His work as an illustrator lasted 20 years.

 

1859:  Homer moved to New York and began work for Harper’s Weekly as an independent contractor, a status he maintained for the rest of his work life.

 

1863:  The artist joined a life-drawing class in New York.  After learning the basics of painting, he continued, mostly self-taught, to work in oils.

 

1867:  Homer travelled to Paris and remained there a year.  Continuing to work for Harper’s for whom he produced scenes of Parisian life, he also practiced landscape painting.

 

1873:  The artist begin to paint with watercolour, again teaching himself, on a regular basis during a stay in the coastal village of Gloucester, MA. 

Taking to this difficult medium with confidence and even panache, the artist’s watercolours had significant commercial success throughout his life.

 

1881-82:  After a brief stay in London, visiting galleries, Homer spent the next two years studying the fishing culture of the English village of Cullercoats in Northumberland.

 

1883:  Homer moved permanently to his family’s estate at Prout’s Neck, Maine.  His former carriage house of a home was very close to the ocean. 

 

 

Homer travelled often inland from the Adirondacks in NY state to the Laurentians in southern Quebec. There he documented the flora and fauna and the drama of the natural environment.

 

He also travelled often in the eastern US from Maine to Florida and, during the winter months, to Bermuda, the Bahamas and Cuba.

He was always sketching to complete his work in his studio at home.  Often he took his water colours with him.  He left a large body of work.

 

The artist, described as emotionally reclusive in his private life, never married.

Prout’s Neck remained his home for the rest of his life.

 

 

*************************

 

 

Three times the artist went to Virginia to observe and illustrate aspects of the Civil War for Harper’s.

 

 

 

Sharpshooter, 1863, oil on canvas. 

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Loaned by the Portland Museum of Art, Maine to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

The artist’s first oil painting.

Here a Union soldier uses a new-fangled telescopic viewfinder to aim and kill from up to a mile away.

 

 

He was deeply affected by what he witnessed in this war.  His primary themes evolved from this experience: 

 

Conflict;

the existential struggle to survive in war, in peace,

and against the dangers of Nature, (the sea standing as the most potent of metaphors);

 

the artisanal and technological expertise along with the emotional acuity which men and women bring to bear in the struggle to live;

 

the arbitrariness of fate for an individual or a whole people

to include the hardships of Black peoples in the United States as a consequence of historic injustice;

 

the large changes brought on by the war: its technologies, its disruptions of the old socio-economic order North and South; 

and by the peace which initiated the preparations for the American Century whose first decade Winslow Homer lived to see.

 

Mortality.

 

 

 

The artist was a man of his time.

 

Despite his empathetic and hopeful portrayal of American Blacks in the wake of the Civil War,

in depicting Black peoples in the Bahamas and Bermuda, his primary orientation is not towards their lack of freedom and their governance by colonial powers.

 

 

 

 

Flower Garden and Bungalow, 1899, watercolour and graphite on wove paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Bermuda, then a British Crown colony, where the artist spent six weeks in the winter of 1899-1900.

 

 

They are represented, instead, in an idyllic environment even if colonial soldiers and alien government are present in some of the compositions.

 

These images were designed to encourage North Americans to visit as tourists.

 

 

That said, the salience of Winslow Homer’s themes has not diminished.

This exhibition attested to the universal pertinence, skill and humanity of the artist’s legacy.

 

 

 

*******************

 

 

 

 

The Veteran in a New Field, oil on canvas, 1865.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

 

President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated and the South has surrendered.

A Union soldier, now a veteran, returns to a bountiful harvest. He carries, however, the symbol of death.

 

 

 

 

The Brush Harrow, 1865, oil on canvas. 

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Loaned by Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

Two boys do the work of absent men:  they prepare a field for Spring planting using an outmoded agricultural tool: a harrow made of tree branches.

 

 

The ambiguities and perils for Black Americans, and especially for women, trying to make their way after the Emancipation were a significant focus for Winslow Homer. 

 

It has been noted that there is far more detail about the faces and expression of Black Americans than there are about many of the Whites in Homer’s paintings.

 

 

 

Near Andersonville, 1865-66, oil on canvas. 

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Loaned by Newark Museum of Art, NJ  to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

Museum guidance is that this is the only one of the artist’s Civil War paintings to center an African American woman:  she stands on the threshold of her life, liberated.  In the distance, Confederate soldiers march with their Union soldier prisoners.

 

 

 

 

Prisoners, 1866, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

 

Painted in his New York studio after the war, this image represents the artist’s friend, Francis Channing Barlow, a Union army general, who captured a division of Confederate soldiers in Virginia in 1864.

 

 

 

 

An Adirondack Lake, 1870, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American. Loaned by the University of Washington, Seattle to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

In 1870, the artist made the first of his 20 visits to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York.

 

 

 

 

Old Mill (The Morning Bell), 1871, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American. Loaned by Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

A woman carrying her lunch pail goes to work at the mill, watched by three others in homespun who are clearly still tied to the still dominant agrarian economy.

 

 

 

Crossing the Pasture, 1871-72, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Loaned by the  Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, TX to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

Snap the Whip, oil on canvas, 1872.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

The artist is nostalgic about the country’s agrarian history with children at play in front of their little red school at a moment when the country is moving towards rapid industrialization and mass urbanization.

 

 

 

 

this photo from the net

The Cotton Pickers, 1876, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Loaned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

During Reconstruction, two young women are picking cotton. 

Despite their hopes, nothing much has changed since the time of slavery.  One of the two seems to look towards the horizon in question of the future.

 

 

 

 

A Visit from the Old Mistress, 1876, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Loaned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

During Reconstruction, former slave owners were obliged to pay for the labour of their former slaves.  The tension is apparent.

 

 

 

 

Dancing for the Carnival, 1877, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

 

Museum guidance is that the central figure represents a character called Junkannu in a Christmas celebration once observed by enslaved people in North Carolina and, possibly, southern Virginia also.

After the Civil War, aspects of Junkannu were incorporated into Independence Day celebrations. 

 

In 1877, Federal troops withdrew from the South and full civil rights for African Americans came to an end.

 

 

***************************

 

The Sea

 

Homer had a great interest in the sea and the sea shore as sites of leisure and work.

 

 

 

Eagle Head, Manchester, Massachusetts, (High Tide), 1870, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

The young woman in the center of this image has been swimming and is wringing out her clothes.  The image was criticized for her supposed indecorum and forwardness.

 

 

 

 

Boys Wading, 1873, watercolour and gouache over graphite.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

 

 

 

A Basket of Clams, 1873; watercolour on wove paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for Dad (Longing), 1873, watercolour on wove paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American. Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, CA loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

 

Breezing Up (a Fair Wind),1873-1876, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Loaned by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

An optimistic image of men and boys at sea painted after a visit to the fishing villiage of Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1873.

 

 

 

Homer lived on the Atlantic sea coast in Maine. He travelled to Britain, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cuba and Florida.  In each place he studied the sea and its people.

 

As his career progressed, he became more and more concerned with the dangers of maritime work. 

 

The sea became the artist’s most worked metaphor for the struggle of men and women against nature and for their lives. 

 

 

In the Spring of 1881, the artist travelled to England.  He studied London’s art collections and then went to live in the North Sea fishing community of Cullercoats.

 

He was inspired by the routines, difficulties, and dangers of the life of this community.

 

 

 

Perils of the Sea, 1881, watercolour and graphite on wove paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American. Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

Two Cullercoats ‘fishwives’ scan the horizon for sight of the boats of the men as the winds rise.

 

 

 

The Light Brigade, 1882, oil on canvas

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Private collection loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

This oil painting is thought to have been created when the artist returned from Cullercoats to Maine because he painted almost exclusively in watercolour when he lived in Cullercoats and this is in oil.

The composition, pared down to essentials, is tense with anticipation.

 

 

 

The Gale, 1883-93, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Worcester Art Museum, MA loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

A final image of a Cullercoats fisherwoman transplanted to a scene set in Prouts Neck, Maine.

 

 

 

Winslow Homer returned to the US in 1882 and continued for the rest of his career to represent the challenge and dangers of maritime life.

 

 

 

The Lifeline, 1884, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Philadelphia Art Museum loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

This image is based on an incident Homer witnessed in Atlantic City, NJ not long after his return from England.

The rescuer uses the newly invented breeches buoy in which ropes and pulleys are used to transfer a drowning victim to safety.

 

 

 

 

The Fog Warning (Halibut Fishing), 1885; oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Boston Museum of Fine Arts loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

The artist amassed knowledge of the hard labour of fishing in the English fishing village of Cullercoats; off the coast of Maine; and in the Grand Banks which are rich waters southeast of Newfoundland.  This is an area of intense fog where the cold Labrador current converges with the warmer Gulf Stream. 

The fisherman looks towards a distance schooner as the fog settles.

 

 

 

 

 

Eight Bells, 1886, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Phillips Academy, Andover, MA loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

The title refers to the timekeeping methods of ships.  These are arranged in four-hour time shifts. Each toll represents 30 minutes: eight rings of the bell signify the end of a shift at 4, 8 and 12 am and pm. 

Two sailors are using a sextant and a chronometer to record the location of their vessel.

 

 

 

 

Undertow, 1886, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

Two women are saved from drowning: an image inspired by the same experience in Atlantic City, NJ which resulted in The Life Line, above.

 

 

 

 

Signals of Distress, 1890-96; oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

A group of sailors prepares to launch a life boat during a storm. 

The artist reworked this scene between first showing it in 1891 and selling it in 1896: he removed the sail of the distressed boat on the horizon and left no sign of human presence there.

 

 

 

 

Winter Coast, 1890, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Philadelphia Art Museum loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

The museum notes that this composition is atypical for Homer in its vertical composition and its season. 

A solitary hunter, a goose over his shoulder and carrying his gun, looks out to the winter sea. 

 

 

 

 

Northeaster, 1895 reworked by 1901.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

 

Maine Coast, oil on canvas, 1896

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

 

 

 

 

 

Early Morning After a Storm at Sea, 1900-1903, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Cleveland Museum of Art loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022 

 

 

 

 

The Wrecked Schooner, c. 1900-1910; watercolour and charcoal on paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

This was inspired by a wreck off Prout’s Neck, Maine and was among the last of the artist’s shipwreck paintings.

 

 

 

Along the Gulf Coast

 

Between the mid-1880s and his death in 1910, Winslow Homer travelled often from his home in Prouts Neck, Maine to the Bahamas, Cuba, Florida and Bermuda. 

His first visit to Nassau, the Bahamian capital, was with his father in 1884.  The artist explored the Black settlements outside the city.

 

The artist painted in watercolours during these trips.

His paintings were meant to attract American visitors to the Bahamas and they picture an idealized society; a kind of paradise.

 

 

 

 

Shark Fishing, 1885, watercolour on paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

Two Bahamian fishermen try to reel in a shark. The artist was visiting when the papers reported that a shark, about 11′ long, was brought for inspection to the hotel where the artist was staying.

 

 

 

 

 

A Garden in Nassau; watercolour, gouache, and graphite on wove paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

Oranges on a Branch, 1885, watercolour on paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

Native Hut at Nassau, 1885; watercolour and graphite on wove paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

Customs House, Santiago de Cuba, 1885, watercolour on colour.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

During his stay in Cuba in 1885, Winslow Homer witnessed the ongoing political struggle for independence from Spain and highlighted aspects of colonial history in his paintings.

This building is the building in which the Spanish colonial government collected customs on imports.  The Spanish flag and Spanish soldiers with their bayonets are evident.

 

 

 

 

The Cock Fight, 1885, watercolour and graphite on wove paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  The Art Institute of Chicago loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

Cockfighting was a feature of Cuba’s colonial culture.  Here a young rooster has conquered an older one in an unusual fight because, per Museum guidance, gamecocks were typically matched by weight.

 

 

 

 

 

Sponge Fishermen, Bahamas, 1885, watercolour, gouache, and graphite on paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

 

A Wall, Nassau, 1898, watercolour and graphite on wove paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

 

Natural Bridge, Bermuda, 1901; watercolour and graphite on wove paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Bermuda’s distinctive coastline, formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago, interested the artist.  A red-coated British soldier appears to be watching for something or someone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharks (The Derelict), 1885; watercolour and graphite on wove paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American. Brooklyn Museum, NY loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gulf Stream, probably 1899, watercolour and graphite on wove paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  The Art Institute of Chicago on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

The Met notes that it seems that it was in the autumn of 1899, about seven months after a second trip to the Bahamas,  that Winslow Homer created the image which is a preparatory study for his most famous painting, immediately below. 

Here the boat is dismasted and a shark threatens.

 

 

 

 

The Gulf Stream, 1899, reworked by 1906, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

The most well-known of the artist’s paintings and a masterpiece of his style and themes. 

The painting was exhibited a year after it was created and over the next six years, the artist altered the painting.  He added a ship on the horizon and he made the waterspout more menacing.

In other words, as in so many of his paintings, the artist leaves a balance between doom and hope of survival.  

A Black man faces his possible demise on the deck of his distressed boat.  Sharks are circling and a huge waterspout is not far.  

There are stalks of sugarcane on the deck. 

Here are the themes of the artist’s life: the endless struggle of men and women against the power of nature; the balance between life and death;  racism; colonialism; and the inexorable advance of American economic hegemony.

 

 

 

 

After the Hurricane, Bahamas, 1899, watercolour and graphite on wove paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American. The Art Institute of Chicago loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

 

 

Searchlight on Harbor Entrance, Santiago de Cuba, 1902, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

This is after the Spanish-Cuban-American War. An electric searchlight is being used by the US Navy to prevent the Spanish fleet from escaping Santiago harbour.

 

 

 

 

Fishing Boats, Key West, 1903, watercolour and graphite on wove paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

Museum guidance is that these boats appear to be typical Bahamian fishing boats despite the title of this painting. 

Key West is approximately 280 miles west of Nassau across the Gulf Stream.  Bahamians had been crossing to Key West since the 17th century.  Many Black Bahamians migrated to Key West after the Civil War.  There they found familiar work including turtling and salvaging.

The artist used rapid application of fluid washes and the white of the white paper itself in this composition.

 

 

 

 

 

Channel Bass, 1904, watercolour and graphite on wove paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

In January 1904, Homer visited Homosassa, a village on the coast of Florida with its famously clear, sparkling river water. 

Glass bottles, however, have been thrown into the river and the bass itself seems to have been ‘foul-hooked’ (caught outside the mouth) and have only a tenuous connection to the line.

 

 

 

 

Diamond Shoal, 1905, watercolour and graphite on paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American. Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

In Homer’s  last known watercolour, the artist is again looking at the perils of life at sea. 

The Diamond Shoal was a vessel equipped with beacons to aid navigation in dangerous waters off the coast of North Carolina at the juncture point of the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current. 

Here a sailboat is attempting to navigate through the danger.

The artist is thought to have been familiar with this area for his several voyages from Maine to Florida.

 

 

 

Late Paintings, Mortality

 

 

 

Woods at Prout’s Neck, 1887, watercolour on paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

The contrast of two women in mourning dress with the brilliance of an autumn day.

 

 

 

 

An October Day, 1889; watercolour over graphite, with scraping, on cream wove paper.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

The contrast of stunning autumn colours with the probable approaching death of a deer, pursued by a dog (right horizon).

 

 

 

 

Fox Hunt, 1893, oil on canvas.

  Winslow Homer, 1936-1910, American.  Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Philadelphia

 

Crows hunt a fox slowed by the snows of a  Maine winter.

 

 

 

 

A Good Pool, Sagueney River, 1895, watercolour and graphite on wove paper

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA  loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022

Three men – French-Canadian and indigenous Innu/Montangais guides – pursue an airborne gray salmon found around Lake Saint John, Canada.

 

 

 

 

Kissing The Moon, 1904, oil on canvas.

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Phillips Academy, Andover, MA loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

A hunter and two sailors, sitting both together and each alone, in an undecipherable place, are almost submerged by waves.

The artist declined to explain this image, asking only that people keep their physical distance when viewing it. 

It has been interpreted in biographical terms to refer to the mortality of the artist and his two brothers.

 

 

 

 

Right and Left, 1909, oil on canvas. 

Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

This is the second to last of the artist’s oil paintings. 

The museum notes that it is widely considered to be one of the most innovative and powerful paintings in American art.

A tiny sportsman in a canoe on the center left has used a shotgun to kill goldeneye ducks who are here suspended between life and death, illuminated by the flare of the shots. 

 

This image combines the artist’s major themes: the expertise of the sportsman; the conflict between man and nature; the mortality of all living things; and the artist’s expectation of his own death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Winslow Homer

  1. Incredibly rich intensity in these paintings. I hadn’t realized the scope of Homer’s work. This is a wonderful introduction to an artist I knew very little about and to paintings I had never seen. These seem rarely present in overseas’ galleries. I think that is a pity.
    Thank you, Sarah, for putting together this arrangement of paintings and commentary.

  2. Susannah, thanks for your comment.

    It is my understanding that the Met does not think that Homer is as widely known as his art deserves him to be.

    I do not know why his work – with the exception of one or two of his oils – is not widely known but it may well be because he was not institutionally connected: he was self-taught. He was, also, never an employee: he was self-employed. It may also be because the reputation of his work was placed in shadow by that of Thomas Eakins, only 8 years younger. Sarah

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.