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Winslow Homer: 1836 - 1910

Winslow Homer was born in 1836 in Boston. His ancestors were some of the earliest settlers in Massachusetts. At 19 he was apprenticed to John H. Bufford, the most distinguished lithographer in Boston, with whom he worked for two years. Thus he learned to draw by making illustrations for pictorial weekly magazines. For some years he worked for the Boston newspaper "Ballou's Pictorial." In 1859 he moved to New York. Refusing the post of staff artist offered him by "Harper's Weekly," he worked for the next 17 years as a freelance illustrator, though mostly for this magazine.

Homer could extract the upmost from the rather intractable medium of the woodcut, using firm outlines and broad masses of light and dark. His eye for a subject was always fresh. He would select anything that to him seemed to have pictorial value, whether he took it from fashionable society or from the New York streets. He accompanied the Union army in the Civil War, 1861 - 65, which he recorded in a series of drawings for "Harper's Weekly."

It was at this time that, almost entirely self-taught, he first experimented in oils, producing paintings low in tone and color, and with the same broad masses and clear lines of his illustrations. One of them, Prisoners from the Front, was shown at the American National Academy of Design in 1866. It created a sensation and made Homer famous. At the Paris World Exhibition of 1867, one of his paintings that represented American art was admired by many critics.

During 1867 and 1868 Homer spent some months in France. He painted a little and visited the Louvre; one of his woodcuts shows students and enthusiasts making copies of the old masters. Certain paintings by Homer suggest that he learned something from Edgar Degas, but there is no doubt that he maintained and developed a style of his own, investigating the properties of light and color in a direction unexplored by the Impressionists, though in some ways parallel to Impressionism. Light did not dissolve in his forms, but gave them monumentality and richness. This was so even when, in 1873, he took up watercolor and softened his forms. In this new medium he perfected an extraordinary breadth of handling.

In 1881 he made a sudden break and went to the north of England, where he lived in solitude for two years at Tynemouth on the coast. Back again in the United States, he settled at Prout's Neck, a desolate place on the Maine coast. A change in style accompanied the change in Homer's way of living. His earlier reference for children, young girls, and small everyday scenes as subjects was discarded in favor of the sea in all its aspects. he was concerned particularly with man's struggle against the elements, an obsession that gave his painting a new strength. Homer did not leave Maine again, except for yearly trips abroad that became an extension of his exploration of nature. By the time he died, in 1910, he had worked out a personal vision of the interchange between man and nature, and a personal way of expressing it. He had also widened the scope of American painting and brought about a revolution in the use of watercolour.

Additional Exhibits on Winslow Homer
Winslow Homer: An American Icon

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