As the year comes to a close, there’s a little panic. I’ve accepted that the older I get, the faster time goes and true to form, Thanksgiving is arriving on the same day at the same time just a little sooner this year :). Growing up, we went to my grandparent’s house every Thanksgiving. It was always a feast. My grandmother had a great laugh and you knew she was happy to see you. Her favorite artist was Winslow Homer and this post is about him. Despite being a solitary, private man, Homer was fascinated by the life around him.
Winslow Homer got his formal art training on the front lines of the Civil War as a freelance correspondent illustrator for Harpers magazine. He learned to draw fast and would capture the soldiers in mundane camp life and battle scenes. After the war, Homer favored painting the ordinary life of soldiers returning to work in the field. This time of maturity for a nation could be seen in his pictorial themes. “His paintings would convey that life has the capacity to restore itself.”
At the age of 39, Homer ended his career as a commercial illustrator to concentrate on his painting. With fair success initially, Homer soon began to struggle with his place as an artist. The critics were not kind with remarks that compared his work to apple pie and doughnuts (sweet but hardly real art). The paintings were slow to sell and Homer resolved to separate himself from everything and everybody. He sailed to the small fishing village of the Cullercoats on the North Sea of England where he resided for two years. It was there that Homer began to sort his artistic difficulties away from world. He rented a cottage surrounded by a high wall where he could garden and paint in seclusion. From the cliffs, Homer watched the massive sea and boats battle the breakers against offshore reefs. He found the ocean and his new neighbors to be profound subjects. The women of Cullercoats were not like the milk pail carriers from America. They gathered mussels, mended nets, unloaded catch, took the fish to market, reprovisioned the boats and waited along the cliffs for the safe return of their men. This integrity and forbearance was inspiring with a display of feminine sentiment that was in contrast with the adversity. The sea and the lives around him began to dominate Homer’s work. The nature of American sunshine was replaced with the force of grey skies over a raging sea where men battled the ocean for a living and sometimes their lives.
Homers parents were aging and he was called home to assist in caring for them. His brothers purchased a summer home on Prouts Neck for Homer and the parents but his mother died a year later. He continued to care for his father, make repairs on the house, garden, manage properties and study the sea. From his studio he could see the ocean and observe the multiple effects of light on water.
During the summer, Homer would find his subjects on fishing trips to the Adirondacks and the Canadian wilderness. In the winter, he would pack his watercolors for The Bahamas, the Caribbean, Cuba and Florida where he found new brilliant pure color. Watercolor is a peculiar medium and not for the weak. It demands bravery and spontaneity. Homer’s application of watercolor became historical. His goal to capture a living moment with his watercolor carried more truth than his oils however this met with critics who considered his new brevity to be careless and barbaric. The opinion of critics had become meaningless….only the painting process mattered.
I don’t know the name of the landscape here by Homer. He combines the simple boldness of his wash with sensitivity for the land and the weather. If I were a collector with enough funds, it would be mine. And while I was collecting with my funds, I’d also purchase ‘Summer Squall’ for the foyer.
“The sun will not rise or set without my notice, and thanks!” Winslow Homer 1895