Winslow Homer: Presence of Nature
One of the most influential and important artists, Winslow Homer was born in Boston in 1836. He is considered one of the greatest of American realists in the 19th century and although he never formerly learned or aligned with any of the major movements like the Barbizon School, his influence and recognition is widespread, and his process marked a turn away from the divinely infused works of earlier landscape artists.
This viewing room is a deep dive into one of Homer’s most important legacies and his strongest body of work – his watercolors and landscape paintings. While he started as an illustrator and depended on it heavily for his income, by 1875, he was able to make a living from his paintings.
Homer created these three works in the 1870s, a time in which he focused mainly on idyllic landscapes, images of children, and young adults in oils and watercolor. During this period, he became a member of The Tile Club, a group of artists that discussed ideas and organized painting excursions. Other members included William Merritt Chase.
Each of these works embodies quintessential Homer. For example, The Shepherdess was a theme he returned to multiple times as it allowed him to depict pastoral landscapes, grounded by young women. While beautiful, we can also sense the work and labor involved in the rural setting, the solitary figure set off by shades of green and dappled spots of reds and oranges.
But it is watercolor in which Homer has become known. His facility with the medium is evident in the other two works. There is precision in the colors and lines without hemming in the nature of watercolor to soak into the support. It is important to remember that Homer never received any formal training.
Like The Shepherdess, Towing the Boat and Busy Bee epitomize Homer’s vision of the American landscape, held fast visually by young women or children. Much like Rembrandt and other Old Master painters, Homer imbues his subject with emotional content and personality. The Busy Bee is among a series of works depicting the same model. Another painting of the young boy, Taking a Sunflower to the Teacher, is in the Georgia Museum of Art.
The 1870s would be a crucial time for Homer as he stepped away from illustration into new experiments in form and medium. Between 1873-1905, Homer created nearly 700 watercolors. Nearly all of his works from the Reconstruction era South are in museum collections, testament to their importance. As Home himself noted, “You will see, in the future I will live by my watercolors.”
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