Meet The Creative – Winslow Homer

Artist's ArtDNA® Breakdown:

Alluring Romantic

History has described 19th century American painter Winslow Homer as curious, imaginative and passionate, optimistic, lively and composed; Team Mona describes him as an Alluring Romantic! Known as a thoughtful and reclusive man who strived to capture the struggle between mankind and the forces of nature, his works are considered amongst the most powerful and expressive of his time.

Homer was born in Boston at a time when no formal art institution there existed. He was thrusted into an early artistic education as an apprentice to the commercial lithographer, John H. Bufford. Following his apprenticeship, Homer worked as a freelance illustrator for such magazines as Harper’s Weekly and Ballou’s Pictorial. Homer went to the front lines of the American Civil War (1861–1865) as a war correspondent where he sketched both the quiet and chaotic scenes of life on and off the battlefield. Gaining national recognition for those illustrations published in Harper’s Weekly, Homer was afforded the financial stability to travel to Europe and continue his autodidactic education. When he returned in 1868, his works remained stylistically the same, though a noticeable shift in his color palette suggests Barbizon influences from his time spent in France.

The life that I have chosen gives me my full hours of enjoyment for the balance of my life: the sun will not rise, or set, without my notice and thanks.

— Winslow Homer

Homer's Work:

His works are a visual representation of society’s struggle to orient itself in the wake of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, in the climax of the industrial revolution, and in the aftermath of The Civil War. The thematics of man vs. nature and “survival of the fittest” are thematically imbued in depictions of women tending to the homestead, the men absent and assumed to be at war; of sailors bravely facing the brunt of the storm. Fueled with the passion, beauty and tumult of everyday life, Homer’s body of work exudes the emotional authenticity of his Alluring Romantic sensibilities. Discover the evolution of American Realist, Winslow Homer!

Prisoners from the front, 1866
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Prisoners from the front, was completed one year after the war ended and only four years after Homer first began working in oils. This work would help to establish Homer’s reputation.

Rainy Day In Camp, 1877
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Homer completed Rainy Day in Camp, his last major scene of life at the front, six years after the Civil War ended, using studies made during the siege of Yorktown, Virginia, in April and May 1862.

Dressing for Carnival, 1877
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dressing for Carnival reflects Homer’s interest in understanding and depicting the ‘silent tension’ that prevailed throughout postwar society. Produced one year after the failure of Reconstruction and the withdrawal of federal troops from the South, Homer’s subject matter evokes both the emotional and physical dislocation as well as the mental endurance of African Americans and their culture in the aftermath of slavery.

After 1890, Homer frequently depicted “naturalist” subjects – hunting and fishing in the Adirondacks and coastal or marine views at Prout’s Neck, Maine. The Fox Hunt, shows a fox desperately bounding through deep snow in an attempt to flee a flock of half-starved crows. The birds descend with outstretched wings, forming a dark hovering mass above the struggling fox.

The North Road, Bermuda, 1900
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art
The Fog Warning, 1885
Metropolitan Museum of Art 

While the fisherman has been successful, the hardest task of the day, the return to the main ship, is still ahead of him. Turning towards the horizon, the fisherman measures the distance to the mother ship, and to safety. The seas are choppy and the dory rocks high on the waves, making it clear that the journey home will require considerable physical effort.

Key West Hauling Up Anchor, 1903
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.