Winslow Homer

About the Artist

Photograph of Winslow Homer taken in N. Y., 1880, albumen print by Napoleon Sarony, American, 1821-1896. Gift of the Homer Family, Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Photograph of Winslow Homer taken in N. Y., 1880, albumen print by Napoleon Sarony, American, 1821-1896. Gift of the Homer Family, Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Quiet, thoughtful and seclusive, Winslow Homer became one of America’s most beloved artists. Homer was able to capture the raw beauty of people, the land and, especially, the sea.

Early Life

Homer was born in Boston in 1836 and raised in Cambridge. He was the middle of three sons. Homer’s father was a man who dreamed of becoming rich, and took off, when Homer was thirteen, to try his luck in the California Gold Rush. Winslow’s mother painted watercolors and was his first teacher.
His father didn’t get rich, but did get Homer, when he was nineteen, a two-year apprenticeship with Boston lithographer, J.H. Bufford. The skills he acquired in Bufford’s shop led to a job with Harper’s Weekly, where he was sent to Virginia to draw, and report on, the Civil War. His empathetic paintings depicted the mundane, everyday sadness felt by soldiers longing for home.

Homer also did paintings after the war, that were both masterful and hopeful, some of which were exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1866. The Veteran in a New Field, part of the permanent collection at the Met, shows a veteran Union soldier, presumably returned to his life of farming. At a time when the country was reeling from the upheaval of the war and the assassination of President Lincoln, Homer’s paintings reflected a desire for unity and reconciliation.

A Visit from the Old Mistress, in the Smithsonian Collection, shows former slaves standing apart from their former owner. One of the women is seated, which would have been a sign of disrespect before the War.

Personal Life and Career

Homer focused on his painting throughout his life. He never married, but remained close to his mother and his brother, Charles, and Charles’ wife, Martha. When his mother died, Homer took care of his father. Although he did travel to England, Florida and the Caribbean, much of the work done in his later years were done while he lived, in isolation, at the family’s home in Prout’s Neck, Maine.

Legacy

Homer’s work became more powerful, his technique more extraordinary, as he continued to paint. The power of nature, the force of the sea, were subjects he captured with spectacular mastery. Winslow Homer has left a legacy of paintings and prints, many of them part of the permanent collections of the Met, The Smithsonian and other fine museums and galleries throughout the world.

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