Tuesday, December 8, 2009

ONE OF THE FINEST AMERICAN WATERCOLORISTS OF THE 19TH CENTURY




Winslow Homer
Image courtesy of Don Kurtz
From ARC


One of the most well known artists to come out of the Civil War, Winslow Homer, was born in Boston, Mass. February 24, 1836. At 19, Homer was apprenticed to a local lithographer, and his drawings were soon appearing in the illustrated periodicals of the day.
In 1859 he moved to New York City to study at the National Academy of Design, supporting himself by contributing drawings to Harper's Weekly. In 1861 Harpers sent him to Washington to sketch Abraham Lincoln's inauguration.
(Brian Sewell Art Directory)


Georgia Delegation in Congress
Cover of the January 5, 1861, Harper's Weekly
From Sonofthesouth


The image above is a lithograph created by Winslow Homer for the cover of the January 5, 1861 edition of Harper's Weekly. Homer created the lithograph from photographs by Mathew Brady. This illustration, therefore, takes on an important place in history, due to the contributions of two of the most significant names in the art world of the 1800's . . . Winslow Homer and Mathew Brady. The image is of the Georgia Congressional Delegation. The image is significant, in that is was published days before Georgia seceding from the Union. The image has Homer's distinctive signature in the lower left corner. The signature can be seen if you click on the image for a larger view. The caption indicates that the lithograph was created from photographs by Mathew Brady.
The illustration was creates a sense of foreboding . . . there are no smiles on the faces of the Georgia Delegation, and by the end of the year ushered in with this illustration the Nation would be embroiled in the bloodiest conflict of its history.
(Sonofthesouth)


The Inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln
March 16, 1861 edition of Harper's Weekly
From Sonofthesouth


The illustration above is a Harper's Weekly Cover illustration by Winslow Homer. it is the March 16, 1861 edition of Harper's Weekly. It presents the Inaugural Procession of President Elect Abraham Lincoln. The illustration features Mr. Lincoln in a carriage in front of the United States Capitol grounds. Throngs of people can be seen cheering the newly elected president. This illustration represents the beginning of the transition from Winslow Homer the Lithographer to Winslow Homer the Illustrator.
(Sonofthesouth)
Harper's often did not cite Winslow Homer as the artist for pictures that they published. He was sometimes referred to as their "Special Artist". However, this designation was also used for other artists as well. As such, it can be difficult to know which Harper's illustrations were done by Homer, particularly in his early years with the paper. Some illustrations in Harper's include his signature in the corner of the illustration, some were attributed to him by name in the caption, and others are believed to be his because of the distinct style of the drawing. As the war continued, Homer's work evolved, and you can see his distinct drawing style emerge. He began to draw pictures which were much more artistic in nature, and less like the work of a lithographer. He drew pictures which were high contrast, bold, and with less attention to detail.
(Sonofthesouth)


Thanksgiving-Day In The Army
After Dinner : The Wishbone


Thanksgiving in Camp, wood engraving
Harper's Weekly, 1862
From Wikipedia


Homers initial war drawings for Harpers depicted Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's army on the banks of the Potomac in Oct. 1861. The following year he was dispatched as a "special artist" to cover the Peninsula Campaign. Though he did not serve again as a special, he made frequent excursions to the battlefronts and filled his sketchbook with drawings, from which he worked in his studio in New York.
(Brian Sewell Art Directory)


Home Sweet Home
Oil on canvas, c.1863
National Gallery of Art, Washington
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Winslow Homer worked as an artist and war correspondent for the magazine Harper's Weekly. He spent time with the soldiers and accurately captures a camp scene (above). In the foreground are two federal infantry privates. Both are wearing four button sack (fatigue) coats worn casually. The seated soldier, who was writing a letter, has only the top button fastened, while his companion only has the bottom one fastened. Their forage caps (kepis) have a brass infantry horn toward the front of the crown with a regimental number in the center and a company letter, perhaps "G" above. They both wear sky blue trousers, which for privates lack any kind of stripe. On their feet are brogans, also called bootees or Jefferson boots. The clothing allowance called for four pair to be issued to the soldiers per year but even so these saw heavy service. These ankle length brogans are laced with four eyelets and most modern observers would call them a shoe rather than a boot as the regulations refer to them. In the painting the brogans are brown, which is how they were issued. Soldiers were supposed to apply boot black to them, but often had more important duties.
The scene also includes a fair amount of equipage. On the stake is suspended a haversack and less visible, a belt, cartridge box and bayonet scabbard. The haversack was a cloth bag and strap, which was painted black. It had an inner unpainted bag, which could be removed and washed. The haversack was used to carry rations and cooking gear. These rations were issued to the soldiers loose and unpackaged: hard bread (hardtack), salt pork, sugar, coffee and salt. The haversack was closed by a single buckle and had three bone buttons sewn to the inside to hold the inner bag. Period examples measure about 12 1/2 by 14 inches. Several pieces of hardtack can be seen in front of the tent.
Also in front of the tent is a knapsack. These were non-rigid cotton cloth painted or tarred black with black leather straps and closures. A typical one had two sections, which folded together. These were used to carry clothing and personal items. The regimental number was often painted on the knapsack. Veteran soldiers often discarded the knapsack and wore a blanket roll.
(howardlanham.tripod.com)


Inviting a Shot before Petersburg, Virginia
Oil on panel, 1864
The Detroit Institute of Arts


The Bright Side, 1865
From artknowledgenews


A Rainy Day in Camp
Oil on canvas, 1871
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


The Sharpshooter


Homer was not specifically a combat artist; his work was concerned with the intimate moments of camp life and human interest rather than with the panorama of clashing armies. Supplied with his firsthand observations made at the front, he translated these drawings into canvases such as Yankee Sharpshooter (1862). In 1865 his painting "Prisoners at the Front" (below), depicting Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow questioning Confederate captives, was acclaimed by critics and immediately established his reputation as a painter of note.
(Brian Sewell Art Directory)


Prisoners from the Front
Oil on canvas, 1866
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
From The Artchive


The material that Homer collected as an artist-correspondent during the Civil War provided the subjects for his first oil paintings. In 1866, one year after the war ended and four years after he reputedly began to paint in oil, Homer completed this picture, a work that established his reputation. It represents an actual scene from the war in which a Union officer, Brigadier General Francis Channing Barlow (1834-1896) captured several Confederate officers on June 21, 1864 (above). The background depicts the battlefield at Petersburg, Virginia. Infrared photography and numerous studies indicate that the painting underwent many changes in the course of completion.
This history painting depicts Union General Francis Channing Barlow receiving three Confederate Prisoners of war at the battle of Spotsylvania in 1864. Homer had worked for the magazine Harper`s Weekly as an illustrator during the war, and he met with Barlow personally at the front. While referring to an actual event, Homer chose a generic title. He also reflected prevailing Northern attitudes about the rebellion by showing a dashing Union officer facing three stereotypical Southern characters. Eugene Benson, writing in the New York Evening Post, offered this analysis: "On one side the hard, firm-faced New England man, without bluster, and with the dignity of a life animated by principle, confronting the audacious, reckless, impudent young Virginian. . .; next to him the poor, bewildered old man, . . . scarcely able to realize the new order of things about to sweep away the associations of his life; back of him the `poor white,` stupid, stolid, helpless, yielding to the magnetism of superior natures and incapable of resisting authority" (qtd. in Cikovsky and Kelly 26-27). Homer conveys at once the effectiveness of the democratic man in General Barlow, and the various character flaws that Northerners believed issued from Southern aristocratic society and gave rise to the rebellion itself. Three decades later Stephen Crane would describe a similar scene of Confederate prisoners, but with a different emphasis.
(hermes.hrc.ntu.edu.tw)

Don Kurtz, Courtesy of the ARC
After the war, Homer began a career as a painter. He painted several pictures based on drawings he had done during the war, including the Sharpshooter and Prisoners from the front.
Homer went to France in 1867 and began painting landscapes, as he continued to do drawings for Harper's. By 1875 he stopped his work as a commercial lithographer, and focused on his painting. His 1872 painting "Snap the Whip" was very well received, and was displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. He moved to Prout's Neck, Maine and began painting scenes of the sea and coast. It is interesting to note the contrast in the subject matter of his work. His early work captured the horror of the Civil War, and towards the end of his life, his work captured the peace and serenity of the Maine Coast.
(Sonofthesouth)


Snap the Whip
Oil on canvas 1872
www.butlerart.com


Snap the Whip
Graphite Pencil on Tracing Paper
The Butler Institute of American Art
www.butlerart.com


Snap The Whip
Wood Engraving, Sep 20, 1873
The Butler Institute of American Art
From butlerart.com


From his early training as a draftsman and printmaker in Boston and subsequent experience as an illustrator for Harper's Weekly, Homer entered his artistic maturity with a consummate skill for compositional organization and telling detail. Here he fuses in perfect equilibrium the three principal elements of his painting-mountains cape, school building, and figures-both as subject and as design. This tripartite balancing has a further expression in the whip line itself: the three anchoring boys at the right, the four running figures in the middle, and the two flying off at the left. As Jules Prown has shown us, Homer's visual theme is that of interdependence and interconnections, held and broken, among human beings. Painted just as the artist was moving from his own youth into middle age, this, and a number of related images from the mid-1870s, suggests he increasingly had in mind his own sense of relatedness and separateness within family and society. As obviously lighthearted, dynamic, and spontaneous as "Snap the Whip" (above) appears in both form and content, a number of subtle internal tensions heighten its meaning; the play of stillness and motion, running and falling, stones and flowers, interior and exterior, wilderness and construction, physical and mental. This latter contrast is especially pertinent, for the game is taking Place during a midday break indicated by the shadows of a high sun-from the disciplines of learning inside the schoolhouse behind.
Speculation about the location has proposed Easthampton, Long Island, and upstate New York, where Homer had painted at the beginning of the 1870s. But both the hilly landscape and the sketch for a later schoolteacher picture are more specifically associated with the inland location, though typically Homer generalizes his image beyond the moment. At this time there was nostalgia for the disappearing "little red schoolhouses' contrasted with significant reforms taking place in American education, the new role of the teacher, and changes in the curriculum emerging in the decades after the Civil War. Homer must have thought more broadly about these matters, for this thematic series of paintings depicted play as well as study, freedom as well as detention, the teacher alone and with students, and the schoolhouse as a classroom, a solitary building, and a backdrop. Indeed, its clean cubic form stands as a central focus of order, proportion, and intellectual clarity within the encircling arms of boys and mountainside.
(JOHN WILMERDING at butlerart.com)


Dad's Coming!
Watercolor on paper, 1873
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Along with Mark Twain's writings, Homer's pictorial visions in the 1870s are among America's supreme celebrations of youth and the cult of the "good bad boy" of the time, when humor mixed with serious truths, and play, like work, held risk as well a pleasure. We cannot be certain how much Homer identified with his subjects then, as we know he did in later decades, but the critical issue of aloneness versus community that seems to underlie works like "Snap the Whip" and "Dad's Coming" (1873, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) was one that his life and art would face from here on out. Significantly, after Snap the Whip, there would never be another painting of a large and active group of figures in Homer's art.
(JOHN WILMERDING at butlerart.com)


The Sick Chicken
Watercolor on paper, 1874
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Homer had been working as an artist for nearly two decades when, in the words of one contemporary critic, he took "a sudden and desperate plunge into watercolor painting." Long the domain of amateur painters, watercolors had gained professional respectability in 1866 with the formation of the American Water Color Society. Homer recognized their potential for profit—for he could produce and sell them quickly—but he also liked the way watercolor allowed him to experiment more easily than oil.
He created his first series in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1873, and by the time he painted his last watercolor, in 1905, he had become the unrivaled master of the medium in America.
Some critics found fault in Homer's early watercolors for their apparent lack of finish and their commonplace subject matter. Yet Homer valued them from the start. He priced "The Sick Chicken" (above), a delicate work that demonstrates his early technique of filling in outlined forms with washes of color, at the steep price of one hundred dollars.
(National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.)


Fresh Eggs
Watercolor on paper, 1874
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon
National Gallery of Art, Washington
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

The size of this watercolor (above)and its highly finished state suggest that Homer was attempting to create what English artists called "exhibition watercolors"—works that were intended to rival the aesthetic power and impact of oil paintings.
Homer often reused the same figures in different scenes. The girl in this work appeared previously in a drawing, an oil painting, and two watercolors. More generally, she is related to the many solitary figures of women that appear in Homer's work especially during the 1870s, including "The Sick Chicken" and "Fresh Eggs".
(National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.)


Sailing the Catboat, Probably 1875
Watercolor and gouache over graphite
Private collection
From The Artchive


Three Boys in a Dory with Lobster Pots
Watercolor on paper, 1875
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Breezing Up
Oil on canvas, 1876
National Gallery of Art, Washington
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Blackboard
Watercolor on paper, 1877
Gift (Partial and Promised) of Jo Ann and Julian Ganz Jr.
in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of NGA
National Gallery of Art, Washington
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


For a short period in the late 1870s, a decorative quality became evident in Homer's art. "Blackboard" (above), which continues the theme of elementary education found in many of his oils, epitomizes this development. The studied elegance of the work's design derives in part from its monochromatic palette and in part from the geometric patterning found in the bands of color in the background, the checkered apron, and the marks on the board. The marks on the blackboard puzzled scholars for many years. They now have been identified as belonging to a method of drawing instruction popular in American schools in the 1870s. In their earliest lessons, young children were taught to draw by forming simple combinations of lines, as seen on the blackboard here. Rather than being a polite accomplishment, drawing was viewed as having a practical application, playing a valuable role in industrial design. Homer playfully signed the blackboard in its lower-right corner as though with chalk.
(National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.)


Girl with a Hay Rake
Watercolor on paper, 1878
National Gallery of Art, Washington
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Homer spent several months during the summer and late fall of 1878 at Houghton Farm, the country residence of a patron in Mountainville, New York. There he created dozens of watercolors of farm girls and boys playing and pursuing various tasks, including "Girl with a Hay Rake" (above. Painted quickly and often outdoors, these watercolors present idyllic scenes of rural life that follow in the European tradition of pastoral painting.
(National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.)


On the Stile, c. 1878
watercolor, gouache, and graphite on paper
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon
From National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


Beach Scene, Cullercoats
Watercolor on paper, 1881
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Fisherwoman
Watercolor, Probably 1882
Mr. and Mrs. Brayton Wilbur
From The Artchive


"You will see, in the future I will live by my watercolors," Homer once remarked, and he was almost right. He came to the medium late: he was thirty-seven and a mature artist. A distinct air of the Salon, of the desire for a "major" utterance that leads to an overworked surface, clings to some of the early watercolors-in particular, the paintings of "Fisherwoman" (above) he did during a twenty-month stay in the northern English coastal village of Cullercoats in 1881-82. Those robust girls, simple, natural, windbeaten and enduring, planted in big boots with arms akimbo against the planes of sea, rock and sky, are also images of a kind of moralizing earnestness that was common in French Salon art a century ago.
(From "Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists", by Robert Hughes at The Artchive)


An Afterglow
Watercolor on paper, 1883
Canajohorie Library and Art Gallery, New York
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Rowing at Prout's Neck
Watercolor on paper, 1887
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


West Point, Prout's Neck, Maine
Oil on canvas, 1900
Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts
From The Artchive


Three boys on the beach
From la galerie de majorie


Idealizations of the peasant, reflecting an anxiety that folk culture was being annihilated by the gravitational field of the city, were the stock of dozens of painters like Jules Breton, Jules Bastien-Lepage and jean-Fran├žois Millet. Homer's own America had its anxieties too-immense ones. Nothing in its cultural history is more striking than the virtual absence of any mention of the central American trauma of the nineteenth century, the Civil War, from painting. Its fratricidal miseries were left to writers (Walt Whitman, Stephen Crane) to explore, and to photographers. But painting served as a way of oblivion-of reconstructing an idealized innocence. Thus, as Cooper points out, Homer's 1870s watercolors of farm children and bucolic courtships try to memorialize the halcyon days of the 185os; the children gazing raptly at the blue horizon in "Three Boys on the Shore" (above), their backs forming a shallow arch, are in a sense this lost America. None of this prevented Homer's contemporaries from seeing such works as unvarnished and in some ways disagreeable truth. "Barbarously simple," thought Henry James. "He has chosen the least pictorial features of the least pictorial range of scenery and civilization as if they were every inch as good as Capri or Tangier; and, to reward his audacity, he has incontcstably succeeded."
(From "Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists", by Robert Hughes at The Artchive)
"Once into his forties, Homer rarely went anywhere without rag paper, sable brushes and little pans of color. He took his working vacations in places he knew would give him subjects-the New England coast, the Adirondacks, the tumultuous rivers of Quebec, the Florida Keys and the dark palmetto-fringed pools of Homosassa, the bays and whitewashed coral walls of the Bermudas.
(From "Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists", by Robert Hughes at The Artchive)


A Garden in Nassau
Watercolor on paper, 1885
Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Along the Road, Bahamas
Watercolor on paper, 1885
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


On the Way to the Bahamas
Watercolor on paper, 1885
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Glass Windows, Bahamas
Watercolor on paper, 1885
The Brooklyn Museum, New York
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


The Coral Divers
Watercolor on paper, 1885
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Rest
Watercolor on paper, 1885
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Salt Kettle, Bermuda
Watercolor on paper, 1899
National Gallery of Art, Washington
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


The Gulf Stream
Oil on canvas, 1899
Private collection
Metropolitan Museum of Art
From Wikipedia


"The weeks passed. We saw no sign either of a ship or of drifting remains to show that there were other people in the world. The whole sea was ours, and, with all the gates of the horizon open, real peace and freedom were wafted down from the firmament itself. It was as though the fresh salt tang in the air, and all the blue purity that surrounded us had washed and cleansed both body and soul. To us on the raft the great problems of civilized man appeared false and illusory--like perverted products of the human mind. Only the elements mattered. And the elements seemed to ignore the little raft. Or perhaps they accepted it as a natural object, which did not break the harmony of the sea but adapted itself to current and sea like bird and fish. Instead of being a fearsome enemy, flinging itself at us, the elements had become a reliable friend which steadily and surely helped us onward. While wind and waves pushed and propelled, the ocean current lay under us and pulled, straight toward our goal"-Thor Heyerdahl, from Kon-Tiki.
"The Gulf Stream" was based upon studies made during Homer's two winter trips to the Bahamas in 1884–85 and 1898–99. First exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1900, the picture was subsequently reworked and "improved" by the artist. Early photographs show changes to the sea and to the back of the ship, making the composition more dramatic and vivid. The painting was shown in this state at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh in 1900–01, and then at M. Knoedler and Co. in New York, where the artist placed on the picture the record-asking price of $4,000. There were problems selling the work because of either its high price or its unpleasant subject matter. Homer may have reworked the painting again in the face of this criticism in order to add the rigger on the horizon that signals hope and rescue from the perils of the sea.
(Ocean World)


Woodchopper in the Adirondacks
Oil on canvas, c.1870
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


An Adirondack Lake
Oil on canvas, 1870
Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


The Adirondack Guide
Watercolour and pencil, 1889
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Hunter in the Adirondacks
Watercolor over graphite, 1892
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University
From The Artchive


Hound and Hunter
Oil on canvas, 1892
National Gallery of Art, Washington
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Homer had great powers of visual analysis; he could hardly look at a scene without breaking it down and resolving it as structure, and some of his paintings of the Adirondack woods, with their complicated shuttle of vertical trunks against a fluid background of deep autumnal shade, are demonstration pieces of sinewy design. He was able to isolate a motif in action, as though the watercolor were a pseudo-photograph. This sometimes looks false, but it was exactly the kind of falsity that appealed to popular taste, and Homer's watercolors of leaping trout and thrashing bass, the Big Fish dominating the foreground, are a curious conjunction of the merely illustrative and the frenetically decorative. In his sober moods he was rarely off-key. His Adirondack paintings have the astringent completeness of the Michigan woods in early Hemingway. Perhaps no painting has ever conveyed a hunter's anxiety better than "Hound and Hunter" (above), with its flustered boy in the dinghy trying to get a rope on a shot stag's antlers before its corpse sinks, lurching to and fro in a cave of forest darkness and disturbed silver ripples.
(From "Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists", by Robert Hughes at The Artchive)
"Watercolor is tricky stuff, an amateur's but really a virtuoso's medium. It is the most light-filled of all ways of painting, but its luminosity depends on the white of the paper shining through thin washes of pigment. One has to work from light to dark, not (as with oils) from dark to light. It is hospitable to accident (Homer's seas, skies and Adirondack hills are full of chance blots and free mergings of color) but disaster-prone as well. One slip, and the veil of atmosphere turns into a mud puddle, a garish swamp. The stuff favors broad effects; nothing proclaims the amateur more clearly than niggling and overcorrection. It can be violated (Homer sometimes did his highlights by tearing strips of paper away to show white below), but it also demands an exacting precision of the hand-and an eye that can translate solid into fluid in a wink. Homer understood and exploited all these needs of watercolor better than his contemporaries, and he applied them where they most belonged--to the recording of immediate experience. One knows how little time it took to see and how little to do; but one senses the years of self-critical practice behind it. No wonder Homer is the despair of every amateur.
(From "Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists", by Robert Hughes at The Artchive)


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