Winslow Homer

(1836—1910) American painter

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(b Boston, 24 Feb. 1836; d Prout's Neck, nr. Portland, 29 Sept. 1910).

American painter (mainly of landscape, marine, and rural genre subjects), illustrator, and occasional printmaker. He began his career as a lithographer and then an illustrator, moving from Boston to New York in 1859 as he began to achieve success with work for Harper's Weekly and other publications. During the Civil War (1861–5) Harper's sent him several times to the front as a correspondent and he produced some memorable images of the conflict, concentrating not on combat scenes but on life behind the lines. The war also supplied the material for Homer's first major work in oils, Prisoners from the Front (1866, Met. Mus., New York), which has the same quality of vivid but dispassionate reportage as his illustrations: ‘When I have selected the thing carefully, I paint it exactly as it appears.’ The picture was exhibited to great acclaim at the National Academy of Design in 1866, establishing his reputation as a painter. It was also shown the following year in Paris and Homer spent several months in France coinciding with this. By 1875 he had entirely given up illustration in favour of painting and it had become his practice to spend part of the summer working in the country or at the coast on pictures of rural or resort life (Snap the Whip, 1872, Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio). Like the Impressionists, he specialized in contemporary outdoor scenes and he may have been influenced by their work, but his style was altogether firmer. The sea was his favourite subject, and in 1881–2 he spent eighteen months at Cullercoats (home of a flourishing artists' colony) on the rugged coast of north-east England. During this time he worked mainly in watercolour, a medium he used with masterly authority. The visit to England marks a turning point in his career, for his style ‘now took on a broader and more serious air, looser and bolder brushwork, and more thoughtful treatments of man's struggle with the forces of nature’ (John Wilmerding, Winslow Homer, 1978). After his return to America he settled at Prout's Neck on the Maine coast, where he lived in isolation (he was famously taciturn). There he created a succession of powerful works, mainly marine subjects, evoking the beauty and often the cruelty of nature (The Gulf Stream, 1899, Met. Mus.). In his final years he was widely regarded as America's greatest living painter and his reputation remains very high (although his contemporary Eakins is now perhaps even more revered). Homer's studio at Prout's Neck was acquired by the Portland Museum of Art in 2006 and is scheduled to be opened to the public in 2012.

Subjects: Art.

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