WINSLOW HOMER

Winslow Homer was born in Boston, Massachusetts on February 24th, 1836. His father, also a talented watercolor artists, owned a hardware store in Boston. Winslow grew up in the nearby village of Cambridge, a short walk from Harvard University. His mother was, like his father, a skillful amateur watercolorist of flowers. Homer began to draw as soon as he could hold a pencil and was encouraged by his mother when she saw Homer’s talent for drawing. At about the age of eighteen, Winslow Homer began to pursue his artist career by becoming an apprentice in the Boston lithographic firm of John Bufford, in whose shop he was trained to copy other people's drawings onto printing stones. Other than this, Homer had little other formal training. He soon grew tired of this and at age twenty-one set himself up as a freelance illustrator. 

Much of his work was published in the newly popular pictorial weeklies including Harper's Weekly, one of the most popular magazines of the day. Homer's subjects in these illustrations were nearly always the life he observed around him in city and country. He drew his illustrations on wood blocks which were then engraved by others, following the usual practice of the time. Intensely patriotic, he did not change his style or interest in American subjects even after he returned from his trips to Europe. We often see a pleasant sense of humor and a warm feeling toward people, especially children, in his paintings. Many of his pictures tell a definite story.

In 1859 he moved from Boston to New York to be closer to the Harper's office and also because he was now determined to become a painter. New York was the center of the American art world. He took a few lessons at the National Academy but soon discontinued them, apparently finding them of little value. At the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Homer began to report scenes of military life. He went to the war front in Virginia for a period in 1862 and from this experience came his earliest paintings.. These first illustrations, which he sent to Harper’s Weekly, were humorous and story-telling. Soon subsequent drawings told of the wounded, exhausted, isolated soldiers. Later he depicted spirited and light-hearted, youthful subjects. These included scenes of a one-room schoolhouse and children at play. Another of his important themes was mankind’s struggles and adventures with nature, especially the sea. He selected his subjects for his painting carefully, and then painted theme exactly as they appeared to him. He often put a painting away for several years and then brought it out again to rework it.

Homer made many oil paintings, but one of the things for which he is most famous is the way he used watercolor. He came to the medium late: he was thirty-seven and a mature artist. Before the 1800’s artists used this medium only to make preparatory sketches for oil paintings; however, Homer developed a great skill in using it for finished works in which he captured the sparkling brilliance of moving water and cloudy skies.

Once into his forties, Homer rarely went anywhere without rag paper, sable brushes and little pans of color. He took his working vacations in places he knew would give him subjects-the New England coast, the Adirondacks, the tumultuous rivers of Quebec, the Florida Keys and the dark palmetto-fringed pools of Homosassa, the bays and whitewashed coral walls of the Bermudas. Throughout his life, Homer showed originality and deep feeling in his statements about people’s struggles with the forces of nature. By 1900 he was well-known and honored, his watercolors were popular, and his oils were bringing increasing prices. Winslow Homer lived on a secluded part of the Maine coast from 1883 until his death. He died in his studio-cottage at Prout's Neck at the age of 74, on 29 September 1910.

BERMUDA SLOOP - Winslow Homer must have looked long and carefully at changing waters, restless moving waves, and boats bobbing on the surface of the seas before he did this painting. He used mostly blues and greens in dark and light washes. He painted the sky in a different manner than the way he painted the water. The sails of the boat, centered around the vertical mast, capture attention with their graceful and forceful curves. They are touched with a delicate airy orange tint. The figures are dark and indistinct. The waves appear to be gently with the boat resting quietly, probably rocking to and fro with the motion of the water. 

 



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