Friday, July 2, 2010

A few notes on Homers' methods

images from and the

I thought I might show a few Homers and speculate about how they were made. There are scholars who study artists and never address's how the art was made. They study the psychology of the artists and exhume all of their letters and correspondence but ignore the things that painters want to know. I was once introduced to an expert on Metcalf and asked what was on Metcalfs' palette. I got an embarrassed look and a "gee I don't know". I am not an expert on Homers technique , but I will take an educated guess.

The painting above I would assume was made from drawings. I don't think anybody would come up with the silhouette of that bell off the top of their head. Therefore I think he must have sat in front of it, probably with a pencil. I think the painting itself was done over a fixed drawing on a brown ground. He probably posed the sailor and painted from him directly but there may have been a pencil drawing for that first too. Remember all those years drawing events for the newspapers gave Hopper an extraordinary ability to capture rapidly changing scenes with ease. He did it for 20 years. I don't think he set this up on a boat and painted it in situ. I believe it was assembled. That would also be typical of other painters who worked in an academic style at that time. I think this method probably holds for all the fishing at sea subjects.

There are a lot of these fisherwoman paintings from Cullercoats, England. I think they all came from drawings they look like studio work to me. Below is a drawing in what looks to be charcoal and white chalk with some washes. It must be a study for one of the fisherwomen pictures. I think this was probably his working method for these.

First work out the design and drawing in the sketch. Then get a drawing in pencil on the paper and color it up. Below is one that looks as if it were done that way.

This looks to have a drawing beneath it, part of which has been inked. That was a popular thing to do then also. Often the drawing under an academic painting would be inked so as not to be lost as color was applied transparently over it. The color looks more invented than the pieces that I think were done on location.

This pieced was painted directly from nature. I think he took his watercolor block and a chair and sat down in front of this a knocked it out. It has natural color and looks like what happens when you work directly in front of your scene on a bright day. This is a plein aire painting. Most of the others are not.

This looks like it was painted on location too. Homer probably asked the woman to pose for him, and the pose allowed her to set down her heavy basket rather than hold it aloft. That is the sort of thing that models do . This looks as if it was done as fast as lightning.


Philip Koch said...

Fabulous post! These Homer's look so darned fresh as I sit here with my morning coffee I'm tempted to eat one.

OK, I have a ridiculous question.

In the first oil where the sailor has just rung the ship's bell, there's what appears to be a rope extending from the top of the bell over to the left side of the painting. (It hangs like a clothesline with a lot of slack in it). Is it tied from the top of the bell to some stationary point we can't see at the left, or is Homer showing the bell's rope swinging free after the man has rung the bell and then cast the rope away? Or am I misreading the detail and that looping rope-like form actually something else?

Philip Koch said...

Looking again at the same Homer oil, I think I've answered my own question. I think the curved line I asked about is actually a metal strut that attaches to some unseen point at the left side of the painting. It just happens to have a great ornamental shape that caught Homer's eye and that he puts to great use in his oil.

Lower down in the painting there is a more modest little bell rope coming out of the moveable clanger at the bottom of the bell.

Deeply exhaling, I think I can get on with my day now that the suspense is over....

Lucy said...

What a great great post on Homer's working methods.
I read somewhere that he hired girls to pose on the roof of the 10th street studio building and threw buckets of water over them. (again, maybe it was the Met show) But the man could draw!
And do you think that Homer used the same drawings over and over in different paintings? Sometimes it seems that the figures repeat themselves almost like he's got his own visual language.
..and it's so true about these scholors. The endless discussions of where some painting was exhibited and not a word about the working process. Thanks, this is fantastic.

Briana M. Corr Scott said...

Thanks for answering my questions. These new watercolors are also amazing.

billspaintingmn said...

Amazing, and entertaining. That last paintings composition shows her brake from burden, if only for a moment.I can feel the weight of that basket.
As you have said, there is something in the general that speaks greater than the details.
this painting is proof of that.
Thanks Stape.

Deborah Paris said...

Such a treat to see these. I've always loved those Cullercoats women. There is a book out which discusses Homer's working methods for his watercolors. It was published as part of a recent exhibition. My brain is fried (on the fifth day of a plein air show)so I can't think of the title at the moment.

On that topic (analysis of artist working methods) the book The Color of Night about the nocturnes Remington painted in the last ten years of his life-has an excellent section on his working methods based on conservation and x-rays etc. Its a fantastic book-highly recommend it to anyone interested in nocturnes!

James Gunter said...

I've enjoyed all the posts about Homer, but I especially like the drawing (third picture down.) Thanks for posting these. In the fourth picture, the two women on the right look like they are texting. What were they really doing?

Mike Thompson said...

Jim, are you suggesting that Winslow Homer was a time traveler like in the movie ''Timestalkers''? Cool! That would explain how he so completely mastered ''modern'' watercolor techniques. But most people would refute your thesis by suggesting that the Cullercoats women were doing their knitting or some such useful hand work while waiting for their men to come home.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That's a stanchion I think. I thought the same thing at first.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I shouldn't implicate all scholars, there are some who do care about how things are made.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You are welcome

Stapleton Kearns said...

That is a strong piece, you can tell she is tired from carrying the basket.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have seen the Remington book, but not the other.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am certain you are right. Texting.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You are right they couldn't have been texting, how silly.