This painting,"The Lookout" is one of Homers best known works. It is an extremely decorative and oriental design and is painted in Earthen reds and gray and black.The color of the sky above the sailors head is a foreboding indigo. The piece has rich darks and hot lights. The austere seriousness of the color scheme is in keeping with the drama of the scene, the color is part of the "concept "of the piece, it is not observed into being, but contrived as part of the overall effect.This is primal and epic subject matter.
Homer must have been thinking of Rembrandt too. Either way it's a masterpiece. It is way beyond being an observed slice of nature, it is a machine that makes us feel a certain way. I often think most complex allegories in painting end up being obscure or unattractive. When the message is so simple it might be a single word like, bravery or courage or endurance I think a picture is more likely to work.
The touch of white off the rail lets us know this is rough weather and this is not a pleasant sail on a summer's day, but a desperate battle against the sea. As I said in a previous post, Gloucester lost 10,000 men at sea in her 350 years as a fishing port. Sometimes storms took whole fleets and hundreds of men into the deep. Whole crews spent entire storms out in the spray, beating the ice from their ship and its lines with axes and sledgehammers to keep the weight of ice from capsizing their them. American commercial fisheries today still lose 115 men out of every 100,000 each year. Fishing is probably the most dangerous occupation even now.
The painting below tells a story;
This paintings oil clad rescue crew are hauling a boat through the dunes to reach the survivors of a wreck at sea. This painting is a great example of the use of negative spaces. I will return and do a post on this ones design as I think it particularly smart.
These sailors are preparing to lower a boat into that maelstrom sea to rescue a doomed boat on the horizon. Most of the fisherman of that age never learned to swim, their attitude was that it would just prolong your suffering. If you went overboard it was best to drown quickly. You would be instantly carried off and lost in a sea like that, rescue of a man in the water was very unlikely. Their heavy boots and oilcloth coats were heavy when full of water anyway, so going over the side meant death in heavy weather.
The schooners carried dories that went out from the ship to set and haul nets, often the task was to encircle a school of fish with the net by rowing a few small boats around it. If a fog bank came in, and you could no longer hear the ships bell. you were lost at sea. That happened routinely.
These fishing subjects provided Homer with a monumental and "important" theme to make art that had a sternness and dramatic weight, making the work of many other artists of the era look like puffery and foolish gaiety.
Below is a doryman alone with a big halibut, rowing back to the schooner. Homer shows an incoming fog bank behind the safety of the ship below. What weird shapes he put into that tortured front, big spiky shapes, one of which hits the rabbet at the top of the picture. What supreme confidence Homer had to put something that strange in, and knowing that it worked, leave it.