Homer, Winslow

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

Painting the loneliness, the power, and the beauty of the sea was the great achievement of the American artist Winslow Homer. Born in Boston on February 24, 1836, he came from a family that had lived in Massachusetts for nearly 200 years. He was an independent young man and at 21 was working on his own as an illustrator.

Homer moved to New York City when he was 23 and lived there for more than 20 years. But he liked city life less and less, and he spent his summers in the country—fishing, hunting, and painting. The subjects of his pictures at this time were either simple farm life or fashionable young ladies at leisure in the out-of-doors.

During the Civil War, Harper's Weekly, a popular magazine, sent him to Virginia to draw battle scenes. But the young artist was far more interested in sketching soldiers when they were sitting around fires in the evening than when they were fighting battles. Later, in his studio, he began to paint these subjects.

Homer painted the sea over and over again in 1881 and 1882, while he was staying at a fishing port in England. When he returned to the United States, he built a studio at Prouts Neck on the rocky coast of Maine. There he lived alone for the rest of his life, painting mountains and forests, sailors and fisherfolk in their boats, and, of course, the sea.

Many of Homer's winters were spent in Florida and the Bahamas. Some of his best watercolors were painted on those trips.

Winslow Homer was largely a self-taught artist. He was not much influenced by other artists or styles of painting. He painted things as he saw them, with a simplicity that left out unnecessary detail. And he caught in his paintings the exact appearance of light at a certain time of day or in certain weather. In his old age, Homer was considered the best painter in the United States. He died at his studio in Maine on September 29, 1910.

Reviewed by William Gerdts
City University of New York

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