Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Winslow Homer after the war

Immediately after the war Homer traveled to France. He didn't study there but must have gone to see the paintings in Paris. He returned with his Americaness undiminished, unlike many of his generation who sought to adopt the French mode. This nationalism and regarding nature as his tutor, along with his being essentially self taught helped give Homer his unique position on painting. He did study figure drawing at the National Academy so he wasn't averse to training. My guess is that he had a hard time finding any one whose drawing "chops" were equal to his own. His rather rough and broad style of painting was perfect for achieving his artistic ends and the technical refinement of much of the preRaphelite inspired art of his era would have seemed niggling and too European and fussy to him. He continued to work as a freelance illustrator all of this time and would until halfway through the next decade.

Homers postwar pictures do show Japanese influence but that wasn't unusual at that time. Another generation later Japoniesism was to strongly influence domestic design in a movement called aestheticism. Homers powerful arrangements of light and dark must owe something to his years as an illustrator making images that had to communicate quickly, clearly and compellingly.
During this period he painted a number of scenes of young women (who doesn't like them?) He did paintings of schoolteachers in what were the modern schools of their day.The young women teachers of their day were a new thing, a generation before shoolmasters were the norm. Many of those lay dead on the field of battle now and newly educated young women began to take their places. Homer also did a series of young women playing croquet, a newly fashionable game that allowed him to paint beautiful young women in great costumes in the out of doors. I think these were mostly excuses for arrangements. In the several below Homer experiments with different designs of essentially the same painting.







The painting above is a masterpiece and lives at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, a museum I have recommended before. There's another reason to visit it. In the 1860's New Hampshire was an important place in American landscape painting and this picture is probably set on Mt. Washington although its title only says the White Mountains. As was common in these early years American painting had enjoyed total domination by high finish landscape painting. Homers rougher genre scenes were a very different than those. Homer was faulted for his broad and almost brutal handling and deliberate flattening of shapes. We are used to the broad handling of impressionist painting today, but when this picture was shown that was yet to come. I showed you the work of Eastman Johnson recently, another similar genre painter of the era with whom Homer can be compared.

Notice how the downward sweeping lines of the background give forward movement to the girl on the horse. The little horsemen in the lower right show where her path will lead.

That painting has always reminded me of Rembrandt's "The Polish rider" whether Homer had that in mind I don't know, but I am certain he would have known the painting.

some images from the athenaeum.com and others from artrenewal.org.

8 comments:

ramon said...

These posts are great Stape, the painting of the girl on the horse has a beautiful feeling of outdoor light. I think Homer is definitely a prime example of what I think of as the American character: strong,frank and practical. As I love all things 19th century, I've been researching different schools of the time. It's fascinating how you can distinguish the Finns, from the Hungarians, from the Belgians, French and Americans just by the feeling and general handling. I think whether people like it or not, the character of their nation is intrinsically a part of their work. Looking forward to the next post!

Durinda Cheek, Director said...

Love it, love it, love it! Thanks Stape for taking the time to really teach about art history. Homer is an American master that we should take the time to study and appreciate. You have great insights into his work. Thanks for sharing!

Mary Byrom said...

Love the White Mountains painting! Can't ever see enough of his Adirondack and Quebec water colors. I wish someone would put together a really big show of his work. Maybe Portland will after the studio is ready for viewing. Thanks Stapleton !

Stapleton Kearns said...

ramon;
Glad you are still out there.I think as American painters we have a responsibility to make American art. I mean you can choose not to... but somebody should. I have tried to be not only American in my painting but New England.
.........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Durinda;
Thank you, What do you direct?
.........Stape

Philip Koch said...

Thanks for doing such a nice job with Winslow H. Funny you should mention the Clark in western MA- I'll be going painting in the Adirondacks and have a side trip scheduled to swing over to Williamstown to see the Clark's wonderful collection again. A great place- with a few zillion dollars it's possible to have quite an art collection.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mary;
The Boston museum did a show in 1996.Seems like yesterday, but now I guess it was a while ago.
.............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Philip:
Thanks;
Kiss those nymphs for me! Particularly that one on the lower right.
................Stape