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Artists in 60 Seconds: Winslow Homer

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© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; used with permission

Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910). The Fog Warning, 1885. Oil on canvas. 76.83 x 123.19 cm (30 1/4 x 48 1/2 in.). Otis Norcross Fund, 1894.

© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Movement, Style, School or Type of Art:

Naturalism

Date and Place of Birth:

February 24, 1836, Boston, Massachusetts

Life:

Winslow Homer was one of the most authentic and important American artists of the nineteenth century. Born in Boston, he spent his adolescence in Cambridge, Massachusetts, surviving the absence of a father who rushed out to California to pan for gold. At nineteen he learned how to draw on the job at John.H Bufford's lithography shop by illustrating or copying of photographs for sheet music covers of popular songs (1855-57). In 1859, he moved to New York, where he attended a few classes at the National Academy of Design. He continued to freelance, especially for Harper's Weekly magazine, which sent him to the front during Civil War (1861-1864). His well-known Return of the Prisoners (1866) drew from this experience.

In 1867, he traveled to France and returned a year later--six years before the Impressionists emerged as a renegade force in Europe. Nevertheless, Homer's style in the 1870s took on a similar impressionistic light and anecdotal content, evident in his immediately popular Snap the Whip (1872). From 1871 to 1880, Homer worked in the famous Tenth Street Studio Building, the epicenter of New York art circles due to its influential tenants William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), who often hosted the Tile Club (where Homer began to paint on tiles) and Lemuel Wilmarth (1835-1918), who started the Art Students League. A turning point in Homer's career occurred in 1878-79, while spending much time at Houghton Farm in upstate New York. There his background as an illustrator and his facility with watercolor produced poetic scenes of farm children at play or at rest, surrounded by the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley.

Following nearly two years in Cuttercoasts, Tyne and Wear, a coastal village in England, Homer returned to New York in 1882 and then settled in Prout's Neck, Maine, a location that became known for his windy seascapes, such as Northeaster (1895). In 1884 he began to spend winters in the Caribbean. Occasionally, he vacationed in New York's Andironacks. The Fog Warning (1885), based on a stay in Gloucester, Massachuetts, seems to sum up his self-image: a single man in a storm-tossed boat, rowing hastily to shore, confident in his abilities to navigate the waters and survive.

Important Works:

  • Return of the Prisoners, 1866
  • Snap the Whip, 1872
  • The Fog Warning, 1885
  • Northeaster, 1895

Date and Place of Death:

September 29, 1910, Prout's Neck, Maine

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