Who was Winslow Homer?
Winslow Homer (1836-1910) was an American Realist painter who focused for much of his career on seascapes. As a painter he was largely self-taught and advocated the artistic independence that this fact afforded. Beginning work as a commercial illustrator, Homer then moved to working in watercolours and oils. His background in illustration brought strong lines, simple forms and dramatic contrasts of light and shade to his work.
During the American Civil war of 1861-1865, Homer painted many works as an eyewitness to camp life for the soldiers and some battle scenes. His frank portrayals and unaffected sentimentality in his war paintings brought considerable praise, and looked forward to a national reconciliation. Prime among these works were Home, Sweet Home and Prisoners from the Front.
Crossing the Pasture from 1871-2 is perhaps a culmination of these themes as it forms a hymn to national fraternity and prosperity.
The masterful lighting of A Visit from the Old Mistress shows freed slaves portrayed with the same importance as the owner, and granted them a human dignity. This work shows the breadth of Homer’s engagement with social issues of the time.
Winslow Homer in Europe
A trip to Europe saw Homer in France where he painted peasant subjects, England where he painted in noble fashion the toils of working men and women.
Later subjects included the idyll of country life and of childhood before he moved on to his seascapes.
Winslow Homer in New England
By 1883, he was a resident in Maine where he had plenty of opportunity to observe boats and the deceptive and overt power of the ocean which became a prevalent theme. Pictures such as The Herring Net from 1885 and The Gulf Stream of 1899 show man a fragile creature on a boat that is dwarfed by the impersonal powers of nature.
For his independent development of his art, his constant and fervent curiosity, and social and metaphysical concerns, Homer stands out as an important American Realist.