THE ROBINSON LIBRARY
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painter of subjects ranging from the Civil War to scenes of rural and idyllic life to African-Americans, the sea, and nature
Winslow Homer was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on February 24, 1836. His mother was a gifted watercolorist and his first teacher, and Winslow's talent for art became evident at an early age. At 19 he was apprenticed to J. H. Bufford's lithographic firm in Boston. Although the quality of his work earned praise from his masters, Homer found the work tedious and upon attaining his majority left to become a freelance illustrator. In 1859, he moved to New York, New York, where he studied at the National Academy of Design, took some painting lessons from Frederic Rondel, and set up a studio at the 10th Street Studio Building.
For the first 17 years of his career, Homer made his living by producing illustrations for Harper's Weekly, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, Appleton's Journal, and other papers. During the Civil War, he made several trips to the front, where he sketched the soldiers and officers, camps, battlefields, and, sometimes, the battles themselves. He also produced illustrations showing how the war affected the lives of civilians, including the families of soldiers and people who had witnessed battles. Many of his illustrations were so realistic that Harper's Weekly was criticized for publishing gore and violence. After the war, he was able to shift the focus of his work to scenes of peaceful rural life.
Although he made his living as an illustrator, Homer continued to paint, with most of his early works based on his illustrations. His first important oil was Prisoners from the Front (1866), which was exhibited at the 1867 Paris Exposition. In 1867-1868, he spent ten months in Paris, France, where he painted scenes of Parisian life and of the French countryside. He began painting with watercolors on a regular basis after moving to Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1873, and in 1875 he stopped working as an illustrator to focus entirely on painting.
Homer's subject matter of the 1870's was primarily rural or idyllic life -- scenes of farm life, children at play, and resort scenes peopled with fashionable women. Some of his best-known works from this period are Long Branch, New Jersey (1869), Country School (1871), and Crack the Whip (1872). In the late-1870's he added African-Americans to his subject matter, with A Visit from the Old Mistress (1876) and Dressing for the Carnival (1877) being among his most important works on this subject.
A stay in Cullercoats, a fishing village in England, in 1881-1882, led to a permanent change in his subject matter. From then on he focused on large-scale scenes of nature, particularly scenes of the sea, of its fishermen, and of their families. He took up a solitary existence on his family's estate in Prout's Neck, Maine, in 1882, and in 1884 began taking winter trips to Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas and summer trips to the Adirondacks. His most monumental and best-known works date from this period, including Mending the Nets (1882), A Garden in Nassau (1885), Eight Bells (1886), The Fox Hunt (his largest painting, 1893), and The Gulf Stream (1899).
Although Homer exhibited annually at both the Brooklyn Art Association and National Academy of Design, he did not achieve financial stability from his paintings until 1900. He died in his studio on September 29, 1910, and was buried in his family's plot at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Library >> Painting >> United States
This page was last updated on 06/23/2018.