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.