Winslow Homer

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Jan 15, 2023

Table of Content


Winslow Homer († September 29, 1910 in Scarborough, Maine) was a U.S. draftsman and painter.

Youth and education

Winslow's father, Charles Savage Homer, married to Henrietta Maria Benson, daughter of John and Sarah (Buck) Benson, born in 1809 in Bucksport, Maine, was co-owner of the hardware store "Homer, Gray & Co, importers of hardware" in Boston. When gold was discovered in California in 1849, his father sold his share of the company and set out for California for the Fremont Mining Company. He loaded a ship in Boston that sailed to San Francisco via Cape Horn. He himself took the shorter route across the Isthmus of Panama. He was away from home for a total of two years, but the venture was not successful. Winslow was the second born of three sons. His older brother Charles Savage Homer Jr. was two years older and his younger brother Arthur B. was born five years after Winslow. In 1842, the family moved to Cambridge, where Winslow grew up. The parents' intention was to give their three boys a good education. But only Winslow's older brother, Charles S. Homer Jr. made it to college and all the way to Harvard, where he graduated from Lawrence Scientific School in 1855 with an S.  B.

Winslow attended Washington Grammar School on Brattle Street, near Harvard Square in Cambridge, and he began drawing at an early age. His parents encouraged him in this, and his father once brought him back from Paris a complete set of lithographs by Julian, which included heads, ears, noses, eyes, faces, houses, and trees - everything that delighted a young draftsman.

In 1855, his father saw an ad from John Bufford, a lithographer in Boston, looking for an apprentice with drawing talent. After a trial period of two weeks, Bufford took him on as an apprentice and even waived the usual apprenticeship fee of $300. Bufford mainly decorated sheet music for the Oliver Ditson firm in Boston. Winslow's greatest work was portraits of the entire Massachusetts Senate.

When his apprenticeship was over after two years - on his 21st birthday on February 24, 1857 - he rented a room on Winter Street, in the building where the magazine "Ballou's Pictorial" was located, to which he soon sold some drawings. In 1858 he began sending his drawings to Harper & Brothers in New York, who had just founded "Harper's Weekly". Because he had no training as a painter, he was not considered a great artist at the time. His first work at Harper's Weekly consisted of tracing Mathew Brady's photographs to create woodcuts suitable for printing in the newspaper.

For the next 17 years, his main source of income was selling drawings to the weekly illustrated magazines, such as Harper's Weekly, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, and Appleton's Journal.

Work as a freelance draftsman

In 1859, he moved to New York City. In 1861 he moved into a room in the New York University building, where he lived until 1872 in a tower room that had access to a flat roof - and thus daylight. He then moved to the Tenth Street Studio Building, in Greenwich Village, the preeminent artist address of the time. The building was built in 1858 by Richard Morris Hunt. He lived in the 25 studios with his fellow artists, almost all of whom were members of the National Academy of Design, e.g. Albert Bierstadt, NA; William Merritt Chase, NA; John La Farge NA; Frederic Church, NA; He stayed here until he left for England.

Homer enrolled in the National Academy School for the 1859-60 term and experienced the unusual privilege of being accepted directly into the "life class" (living models) without having to prove his aptitude in the antique class (copying statues). In 1860-1861 and again in 1863-64 he enrolled for semesters of night school under Thomas Seir Cummings (Founder 1826). He also took private lessons once a week on Sundays in 1861 under Frederic Rondel, who taught him how to wield his brush and hold the palette. He continued to provide numerous illustrations for books and magazines. During 1861, one could already see a change in Homer's work when he was commissioned to capture Abraham Lincoln's inauguration in Washington, D.C.. In 1865, Winslow Homer was elected a member of the National Academy.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Homer made several trips to the war front in Virginia between 1861 and 1865. Armed with a letter from Fletcher Harper, the editor of Harper's Weekly, identifying him as a "Special Artist" (now probably press credentials), Homer was able to move through the front lines and gain access to the Army of the Potomac. In early April 1861, he was in Alexandria and witnessed the embarkation of the army aboard the steamer that would ferry them to the peninsula near Richmond, in preparation for General George B. McClellan's long-awaited spring offensive. A drawing he made of the Union's 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment - the only Union regiment to carry lances - bore witness to Homer's eye for the unusual and the dramatic.

He obtained a military passport for Virginia, issued to Winslow Homer on April 1, 1862, from the office of the commander of the military police at Washington. Homer sailed with the army on the Potomac River toward Fortress Monroe and Yorktown in the Tidewater region. Provided with pen and ink, pencil, and white paper, Homer remained with the army for about two months. During this time the siege of Yorktown took place and the Battle of Fair Oaks was fought. Except for what is reflected in his drawings, Homer never kept records of his movements. However, correspondence from an acquaintance, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Channing Barlow of the 61st New York Infantry, has indicated that Homer was at least temporarily in camp with the 61st. Homer himself subtly alludes to this connection in at least two of his works, in which the number "61" appears on a knapsack.

Based on evidence in two other works, the paintings The Briarwood Pipe (1864) - Homer also came into contact at some point with the Fifth New York Infantry Regiment, also known as the "Duryee Zouaves." Known as "the best and most disciplined regiment" in General McClellan's army, they wore the distinctive Zouave uniforms: bright red pants, red fez, and dark blue collarless jackets. Homer made sketches of these colorfully dressed soldiers, fully aware that this work had potential for "future greatness."

Many of the camp scenes he painted illuminate the physical and physical plight of ordinary soldiers. He received national acclaim for these early works, both for the expressiveness and technique of his paintings. "Home, Sweet Home" was exhibited in New York in 1883 and quickly found a buyer. The title of the painting refers to a song that was often played by the military band pictured in the background. The present "home" of the soldiers is the field camp, where there is a kettle on the smoking fire and rusks on a tin plate. Homer also had to cook and wash when he was at the front, and with intended irony he called his painting "Sweet Home."

In Paris

After that he painted more oil paintings, Prisoners from the Front (1866) attracted wide attention. This painting of his was exhibited in the Paris exhibition of 1866. He took this as an opportunity to travel to Paris in 1867. Although there was little contact with members of the French avant-garde, he became acquainted here with common interests with Homer, her fascination with serial paintings, and her desire to capture special light in open-air painting and integrate it into flat and simple forms (reinforced by her appreciation of Japanese design principles), as well as free brushwork. Apart from two drawings of balls and one of the Louvre, nothing else is known about his stay in Paris.

Homer's postwar works depict life in the countryside and seaside resorts. His palette features bright colors and his paintings a freer brushstroke, as well as his interest in the effects of light. His favorite subject in the 1870s is the solitary female figure, often lost in thought.

Homer began painting watercolors in 1873 and exhibited his genre paintings annually at the Society of Watercolor Painters and the Brooklyn Art Association, as well as at the National Academy.The paintings are characterized by their realism, with striking characterization of the figures and original punchlines, but also by too much boldness and breadth of treatment, often detracting from the details.

In the Adirondacks

Homer first came to Keene Valley, which had become an artists' colony after the Civil War, in 1874 with two of his fellow painters, Eliphalet Terry At that time it was just a clearing in the wilderness with a farm belonging to a Baker family who had settled here in 1854. Terry painted a picture of the clearing in 1859. Baker's daughter Juliette kept a diary from 1865 to 1886, so Homer's visits are recorded. Homer was here again in September 1870. Other painters here included Roswell Shurtleff, Arthur and Ernest Parton, Carleton Wiggins, George McCord, Alexander Helwig Wyant, and several others. Homer's best known oil paintings from the period were Adirondack Lake 1870 and The Two Guides. On December 24, 1870, he published his drawings The Woodcut and Trapping in the Adirondacks in Every Saturday.

After 1886, the year the land was purchased to house the "North Woods Club," of which Charles and Winslow Homer were founding members, there is a club register with entries about Homer's stays, all in his handwriting. The last entry is dated June 25, 1908, in shaky handwriting, as he had suffered a stroke that spring. In it, Homer notes that he shot a bear.

While his fellow painters painted a panoramic landscape with a lake and the mountains, Homer always placed a human figure in the foreground against an imposing background.

Winslow and his brother Charles had been mountain climbing and camping since they were teenagers. Now they were avid fly fishers. They took many fishing trips together, in warm weather to the "North Woods Club" in the Adirondacks as well as the exclusive "Torelli Fish and Game Club" in the province of Quebec. In the winter months they could be found on the Saint John River in Florida or later the Bahamas. Fortunately, Homer was able to balance his passion with his art. He was aware that his watercolors about fishing were only of interest to certain male clients who were also avid anglers.

Intermittently, Homer came to the Adirondacks for more than 38 years, hunting, fishing and painting.

We now know that the figures in the painting represent two mountain guides, Orson "Old Mountain" Phelps, the smaller, older guide who was very well known at the time, and Charles Monroe Holt, the younger larger guide. Both were from Keene Valley, N.Y.

When the painting was first exhibited at the National Academy of Design's annual exhibition in 1878, it was not well received. Critics found the painting "sloppy, careless, imperfect" and so it disappeared into obscurity for almost 15 years.

During these years, however, Homer had moved on and Impressionism had reached America. When The Two Guides was shown again in 1890, the times and tastes had changed. Critics - including some who had previously condemned it - were now full of praise.

Thomas B. Clarke, a collector of Homer's paintings, was convinced of its value and he bought the painting for about $200 to $1000. Clarke later sold the painting to Robert Sterling Clark for a verified $10,000 because he considered Homer the greatest American artist.

In England

In 1881, he traveled to England on his second and last trip abroad. After a brief stay in London, he settled in Cullercoats, a fishing village near Tynemouth, on the North Sea, and remained there from the spring of 1881 until November 1882. He became sensitive to the strenuous and courageous lives of its inhabitants, especially the women, whom he depicted carrying baskets and cleaning fish, mending nets, and most aptly, standing at the water's edge waiting for their husbands to return. When the artist returned to New York, he and his art had changed a lot.

In the summer of 1883, he was in Atlantic City, New Jersey, when he was able to observe the sea rescuers. This resulted in two important oil paintings. The first was The Life Line, shown at the Academy's annual exhibition in 1884, which surprised with Homer's new, vigorous style of painting. The painting was purchased by Catherine Lorillard Wolfe for $2,500 during the reception for the exhibition. This purchase did not go unnoticed, especially since it was the first American work to enter Miss Wolfe's collection. The second painting, Undertow (Sog), was also a great success when it was shown at the National Academy in 1887.

Homer's parents had lived in New York since the winter of 1872. A few weeks after Homer's triumph in the 1884 Annual Exhibition, his mother died. After her funeral in Boston, Homer and his father went immediately to Prouts Neck, where his brother Arthur lived. His father did not return to New York, but lived in a hotel in Boston during the winter and in Prouts Neck during the summer. Homer now no longer needed to be in New York to check on his parents or to establish his reputation as a painter. Although he visited New York and Boston more often, by the end of 1884 he made Prouts Neck, with its studio, his residence.

Prouts Neck, Maine

Winslow's brother Arthur B. had discovered the Prouts Neck peninsula in Maine (in Scarborough) on his honeymoon in 1875, and from that year on he regularly spent the summer months there. He was later joined by his father and brother Charles. Winslow had visited them before deciding to build a cottage and studio to settle in Prouts Neck for good. The Homers bought up most of the land on the lakefront and set about developing the place into a resort, with the result that by 1910 there were sixty-seven houses and seven hotels on Prouts Neck.

In 1883, Homer moved to Prouts Neck and lived on his family's estate in the former carriage house converted into a studio by architect John Calvin Stevens - just seventy-five yards from the ocean until the end of his life.

Almost anyone else would have maintained a city apartment to meet other artists or see how the scene was developing. But not Homer. After 1888, he no longer exhibited or paid much attention to the invitations he received. Most of his paintings exhibited after that belonged to either art dealers or collectors. To be a judge at an exhibition, he left his retreat now and then. But he was no longer known to the younger artists.

He lived alone, cooked for himself - quite well, it is said - and employed a man who came every morning to do the housework. He liked to engage in manual labor, building walls, a doghouse, and working in his garden. He had a garden with old varieties of flowers and a vegetable garden. At one point he grew tobacco with the intention of making his own cigars. In such a place, Homer could hardly live as a hermit - as legend attributes to him - but he effectively sealed himself off from professional society, and as he grew older, fewer and fewer people gained access to his studio. When Prouts Neck became too crowded for him with summer guests, he escaped to Florida or the Bahamas and returned with wonderful watercolors in March.

Inspired by the rugged beauty of the Maine coast, Homer's art changed dramatically in theme and mood. He created monumental sea narratives and seascapes, examining man's life-and-death struggle against the sea and the elemental power of nature. Painted under vigorous brushwork and closely observed realism, these late paintings capture the titanic power of waves crashing against the rocky coast at different times of the year and climatic conditions.

In 1893 he exhibited his oil painting Distress Signal for the first time at the Portland Society of Art (later the Portland Museum of Art). In the same year he visited Québec for the first time and exhibited at the Chicago World's Fair. The sensation of the exhibition was that Frederick William MacMonnie's large fountain was illuminated by light in the evening. Homer captured this moment in his painting The Fountains at Night, World's Columbian Exposition with the fountain, horses and a gondola in the foreground.

In 1865 he was elected a member of the National Academy of Design (N.A) and in 1905 to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

He was a member of the Century Association (Society for Art and Literature) from 1865 until his death in 1910.

Homer died in 1910 at the age of 74 in his Prouts Neck studio in the presence of his two brothers. He was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In 1996, the Winslow Homer Studio became a National Historic Landmark.

On January 31, 2006, the Portland Museum of Art purchased the studio from Charles "Chip" Homer Willauer, whose great-granduncle was Winslow Homer, for approximately $1.9 million. After renovations, the studio was opened to the public on September 25, 2012. Today, if you step onto the balcony from his studio, you can see the house where his father Charles Homer Sr. lived, and later his brother Charles Jr. and his wife Mattie, to whom Homer was very devoted.

In 2010, the U.S. Post Office Department honored Winslow Homer by issuing a 44-cent stamp featuring his painting Boys in a Pasture. This was Homer's third illustration on a U.S. postage stamp. In 1962, the first stamp appeared with Breezing Up (The Wind Freshens). The 1998 stamp featured his painting The Fog Warning.


  1. Winslow Homer
  2. Winslow Homer
  3. ^ Cooper, Helen A., Winslow Homer Watercolors, p. 16. Yale University Press, 1986.
  4. Ballou's pictorial drawing room companion Volume: 17, 1859
  5. Biography in National Academy (Memento vom 4. April 2015 im Internet Archive)
  6. Past Academicians "H" / Homer, Winslow NA 1865 (Memento vom 2. April 2015 im Internet Archive) (abgerufen am 26. Juni 2015)
  7. Drawing, General McClellan’s Sixth Cavalry Regiment, Embarking at Alexandria for Old Point Comfort. April 2, 1862 - Graphite, brush and gray wash on cream paper. Gift of Charles Savage Homer, Jr. 1912
  8. Home, Sweet Home, ca. 1863 (Memento vom 4. März 2015 im Internet Archive)
  9. Gerry Souter, Le Réalisme américain, Parkstone, 2009, p. 21-34 (lire en ligne).
  10. a b c d e f g et h (en) LLoyd Goodrich, Winslow Homer, 1973, pp. 11-48.
  11. (en) Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., « Winslow Homer's (So-Called) Morning Bell » , The American Art Journal, Vol. 29, No. 1/2 (1998), pp. 4-17.
  12. Date du frontispice, dans William Howe Downes (1911), The life and works of Winslow Homer.
  13. (en) Nicolai Cikovsky (dir.), Winslow Homer, Boston, Yale University Press, 1995, p. 239.
  14. Хомер Уинслоу // Большая советская энциклопедия: [в 30 т.] / под ред. А. М. Прохоров — 3-е изд. — М.: Советская энциклопедия, 1969.

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