Monday, June 14, 2010

Winslow Homer

Winslow Homer was born in Boston in 1836 and was raised in Cambridge Massachusetts, then a small town outside of Boston, the home of Emerson and Thoreau's Walden and Longfellow. The son of a nominally successful businessman he was apprenticed to a Boston lithography firm.

For several years he endured the boredom of drawing for sheet music covers and other mind numbing uncreative tasks, but it made a good draftsman of him and he was able to become a freelance illustrator with the training he received.

His ability to generate drawings that were particularly suitable to conversion to woodcut printing, the common means of illustrating a newspaper or magazine of the day assured him plenty of work. When I was in military school there was a closet off the library where the school stored its collection of Harpers magazines going back to the civil war. The school was old enough to have had a subscription. I remember poring over the old bound collections and seeding the Homers. They were never pointed out to me as important, in fact I really didn't know who he was, they didn't have to be, they were so striking. There were few books on American art in those days, if there was a book on Homer, I had never seen it. There was for instance nothing in print on Sargent.

Homer spent twenty years as an illustrator building enormous design skills and preparing himself to be a great American painter.Homer stands above all the American painters except perhaps Inness, before him. His paintings were more than just design or representations, they were icons and their simplified naturalism expressed great truths. He was a great artist on a level with the greats of European art history. The chain of his influence was to run through the rest of our nations art, through both illustration and fine painting. He was deliberately and obviously American and self invented. Over the next week or so I will delve into the paintings and try to present Homer in a manner befitting his importance.

19 comments:

Terry said...

Hi Stape,
What is striking to me is the level of difficulty in the compositions of these two artists. There are things going on at the sides in the back, a deer checking out a puppy for heavens sake! Yet they work and every time you look at them you see something else they have thrown......make that placed with sure confidence for the delight of the viewer. You don't see compositions like that much today, maybe Mian Situ or Howard Terpning? That's why they get the really big bucks! Terry

Mary Byrom said...

Winslow Homer, one of my favorites! You'll probably share some jewel I don't know about him. Thanks Stapleton. Great pictures!

T Arthur Smith said...

For me, the great mystery of Winslow Homer is how he got so good at figuredrawing without drawing nudes. I've never seen a nude study by him. Besides the Athenaeum, the MFA Boston has some pics of his work in their database, although the quality for downloading is low. I'll look through his works a bit and mention any that are worth discussing to get your input.

T Arthur Smith said...

One of Homer's strengths is his ability to create great depth with just a couple compositional elements. Like this work:

http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/full.php?ID=614

The large ship on the horizon is small compared to the little punt the woman is rowing. Nothing else conveys space or perspective because nothing else has to.

T Arthur Smith said...

Here's a forest scene that uses a couple dark washes for the background, and just a couple dabs of lighter color (gouache?) for leaves that give it a perfect sense of space. Simple, but effective:

http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/full.php?ID=17626

billspaintingmn said...

Ok Stape, I'm at the campfire, It's story tellin' time- bring it on!
(I know nothing about Winslow Homer, but I'm rivited!)

Barbara Carr said...

And it just happens that the Portland (Maine) museum is having an exhibition of Homer's works: http://www.portlandmuseum.org/ now through September 6th.

Deborah Paris said...

So glad to see you taking up Homer here- one of my heroes for sure-an American original. One of my earliest recollections of seeing a piece of art as a child was a reproduction of a watercolor of the Homossasa River in Florida by him. As a little girl growing up in Florida it riveted me. Although I am a fan of all his work, his series of hunting pictures (mostly watercolors) from the Adirondacks are among my favorites. They have it all-great mood, drawing, exquisite restrained color, effortless (looking) design, man in nature, death, life- Hope you'll touch on those.

Philip Koch said...

Actually I've been curious for some time why Stape hasn't been mentioning Winslow Homer much if at all until now. My operating theory was he was bullied by a big kid named Homer in the 6th grade and suppressed the event, leaving him with an irrational fear of anyone with that name. Glad to see that I was wrong, or at least that Stape is healing emotionally.

In any event, Homer's is a real giant in American painting. One can learn a ton from studying his painting. It delightful and serious at the same time.
That he could be SO good in both oils and watercolors almost seems unfair.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Terry:
I think those painters are fine, but Homer is another thing all together.
.........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mary:
I hope I can!
.........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

T.Arthur
We'll get to those!
.........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

bill:
I hope to cure that.
.......Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Barbara:
Perhaps nI can find time to go see that. I have seen a big Homer show.
..............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Deborah;
I will try!
..........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Philip:\
In have avoided Homer because I know trhis is going to be hard, he is complex and magnificent.
....Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

T. Arthur:
Homer was enrolled in a life class in1859 at the National Academy. And again in 1860 and 63. So he had a good deal of experience in that and instruction.
..........Stape

T Arthur Smith said...

Thank you, Mr. Kearns, but then where are the drawings? How come I can't find them anywhere?

D Curtis said...

Great post and I really appreciate all you share in this blog. Your comment about Howard Terpning and Mian Situ being fine painters threw me a little. Fine? I agree Winslow Homer was a powerhouse of a painter, but there are not many painters past or present who are much better than Howard Terpning. When it comes to design, drawing, technique, etc. he's right up there with the best. Forget his subject if you want to but in my opinion he stands alongside great painters such as Homer.