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Winslow Homer

February 24, 1836 - September 29, 1910


Winslow Homer is one of the best-known American painters of the 19th century and primarily painted anecdotal pieces of solitary figures and seaside landscapes. He began his career as a printmaker in Boston before moving to New York City in 1859 to work as an illustrator and artist-correspondent for Harper’s Weekly. In 1863, the magazine sent him to the front lines of the American Civil War, where he recorded scenes such as “Skirmish in the Wilderness.” His Civil War prints and paintings carry a tone of suspense and tragedy, with dramatic lighting, shadows, and figures engaged in chores or contemplation. After the war and into the 1870s, Homer began to focus on dreamy landscapes and portraits set in Massachusetts beach towns and the Adirondack Mountains. Homer’s most famous paintings come from this period; his subjects primarily include women and children performing chores or at leisure in an outdoor setting, such as in “Fresh Air” and “Apple Picking.” He quit his job as an illustrator in 1875 and traveled abroad, first to Paris and then to England. While in England, he painted scenes of women at work in the coastal town of Cullercoats, a theme that would occupy him for the rest of his career. Most of Homer’s early work is in oil painting, and he experimented with watercolors only late in life. He documented his travels to the Caribbean with airy seascapes of Black men and women at work in this new medium. In 1883, Homer moved to Prouts Neck, Maine, and began a reclusive life. The pieces produced following his retreat from society demonstrate a darker psychological intensity as he painted in isolation. By 1890, he had abandoned all human elements in his paintings to focus on the majesty of the sea and the forces of nature that he believed made human life insignificant. The power of the sea and human helplessness is at odds with other late 19th-century maritime paintings, such as those of Robert Salmon, whose works focus on the glory of British seamanship. Homer’s later landscapes, without the presence of human narrative, capture the drama and force of the sea. The drama and quick brushwork are early examples of his tendency toward modernist abstraction. Homer died on September 29, 1910, and his legacy has only grown in the century since.

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