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WINSLOW HOMER | Swiss 1861 -1831 | Back to Homer


Winslow Homer

Winslow Homer (1836-1910), widely regarded as the greatest of nineteenth-century American painters, is the subject of a comprehensive retrospective exhibition that illustrates all aspects of the painter's career from his early views of the Civil War to the late seascapes. Including more than 160 works in all media, this is the most complete exhibition of Homer's paintings since the Whitney Museum of American Art's show of 1973.

Like so many American artists, Winslow Homer had strong New England roots. He was born in Boston, and at the age of six moved with his family to Cambridge. In 1858 his family moved to Belmont, and the following year Homer himself left for New York where he had his studio until 1880. However, he returned frequently to see his family and to exhibit his work, and he spent several summers (including those of 1873 and 1880) in Gloucester. In 1883 he moved back to New England, settling for his last three decades in Prout's Neck, Maine.

Homer began as an illustrator, making many designs for wood-engravings published in Harper's Weekly during the Civil War years and thereafter. By 1863 he had begun to paint, and in 1864 he executed an accomplished group of paintings depicting sharpshooters, skirmishes, prisoners, and soldiers at leisure in their camps. After a trip to Paris in 1867, Homer over the next decade produced a brilliant series of works celebrating old-fashioned rural values in a nation undergoing rapid change and urbanization. His subjects included children at play and young women seen working or at leisure. Homer's women were portrayed during summer vacations (riding horseback, playing croquet, or enjoying the shore) or at work gathering eggs, picking cotton, or teaching school, while his rural boys and girls typically relax in the sunshine, practice courtship, or sail their boats.

Key transitional years for Homer were 1881-82, which he spent in the fishing village of Cullercoats on the northeast coast of England. Here the painter developed his mature watercolor technique, and here also he found the theme of the sea to which he devoted the rest of his life. Upon his return to the U.S., Homer settled on then-remote Prout's Neck, near Portland, Maine, where his studio overlooked the ocean. His subjects now were masculine ones: fishermen battling the elements both on shore and far out at sea (in works ranging from The Fog Warning, 1884, to the famous The Gulfstream of 1899, sponge divers and sailors in the Bahamas, hunters and fly fishermen in Canada and the Adirondacks. Finally, beginning about 1890, Homer executed a magnificent series of paintings of the sea itself, elemental pictures that have been interpreted in many ways. Without question, Homer's late works are heroic and thought provoking; they portray both the beauty and the awesome power of nature, and they deal with the great questions of human meaning and mortality.

This biography was created for a retrospective of Homer’s work at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
by Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., John Moors Cabot Curator of American Paintings

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