June 21, 2015 – September 16, 2015
Winslow Homer (1836-1910) chronicled the events, places, and activities that shaped America in the second half of the nineteenth century. His skills as an astute observer of everyday life grew out of his experience as an illustrator. Homer’s America presents a selection of two dozen works from the Museum’s permanent collection, mostly engravings, as well as watercolors, one oil painting, and a rare etching that focus on key themes of his career including the Civil War, Farming, Children, Heroism and the Sea, Recreation, and the Adirondacks.
Homer is considered one of the most accomplished and prolific illustrators of the nineteenth century. He began his career working as a freelance illustrator in 1857, at the age of twenty-one, when wood-engraved illustrations were in high demand. The rise of the pictorial press in the 1850s emerged from improvements in the technology of printing. Many of Homer’s drawings were developed into wood engravings for popular magazines such as Harper’s Weekly, Ballou’s Pictorial, and Every Saturday. These weekly publications presented over two-hundred of Homer’s images between 1857 and 1875.
In the 1860s, Homer served as artist-reporter during the Civil War, providing sketches of battles he witnessed and scenes of camp life, which gave Americans access to the tragic conflict. These images are considered some of his most ambitious graphic works and five engravings on this subject are featured in the exhibition including A Sharp-Shooter on Picket Duty, considered one of his most commanding illustrations. In the years after the war, Homer turned to lighter subject matter and found a receptive audience for his illustrations of wholesome children playing in the countryside and agrarian scenes of farming. The exhibition features several well-known images of this genre including Snap the Whip, and The Dinner Horn, both striking examples of how Homer created compositions with narrative details and strong visual appeal that successfully exploited the wood-engraving medium.
An avid outdoorsman, Homer honed his skills of observation by immersing himself in the natural world during his many fishing excursions in the Adirondacks and Florida. Among the featured works that illuminate this theme – two watercolors, A Good One, Adirondacks, St. John’s River, Florida, and an oil painting, Adirondack Guide – are highlights of the Museum’s art collection. By the 1880s, Homer resided in the coastal fishing community of Prout’s Neck, Maine. The artist became enthralled by the power of nature, and preoccupied with themes of peril at sea and modern heroism. In The Fog Warning, a large-scale etching after the famous painting of the same title, a fisherman in his dory struggles against choppy waves to return to the main ship before a thick fog rolls in.