Saturday, November 10, 2012

Homer, Winslow

Eagle Head, Manchester, Massachusetts (High Tide)
oil on canvas
66 x 96.5 cm (26 x 38 in. )
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

One of the best beaches on the East Coast, Manchester, on Cape Ann, the North Shore of Massachusetts, named "the Singing Beach" since it makes a high-pitch noise when you walk on it, is a high-priced vacation spot. Eagle Head is the promontory in the background. When this work was first exhibited in New York, contemporary critics focused on Homer's technical shortcomings, his subject matter, and the lack of propriety in the bathers' costumes. The unembellished starkness of the image, and the harsh light and long shadows intensify the disquieting quality of the painting.

Winslow Homer (1836 - 1910), largely self-taught, was an American landscape painter and printmaker best known for his marine subjects. He is regarded by many as the greatest American painter of the nineteenth century America and a preeminent figure in American art. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, he had a happy childhood, growing up mostly in then rural Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was an average student, but his art talent was evident in his early years. When he was nineteen he was apprenticed as to the lithographic firm. In 1859 he moved to New York where he worked as a freelance illustrator. On the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, he was sent by Harper's Weekly magazine, to draw pictures of the fighting. He observed the battle of Bull Run before accompanying the Army of the Potomac during its Peninsula Campaign. He also drew pictures of the siege of Petersburg. During the war he developed a reputation for realism. Homer's career as an illustrator lasted nearly twenty years. He contributed illustrations of Boston life and rural New England life to magazines such as Ballou's Pictorial and Harper's Weekly, at a time when the market for illustrations was growing rapidly, and when fads and fashions were changing quickly. He subsequently took up oil painting and produced major studio works characterized by the weight and density he exploited from the medium. He also worked extensively in watercolor, creating a fluid and prolific oeuvre, primarily chronicling his working vacations.

Homer was the undisputed master of the genre "sporting artist" in America, and he brought to it both intense observation and a sense of identification with the landscape-just at the cultural moment when the religious Wilderness of the nineteenth century, the church of nature, was shifting into the secular Outdoors, the theater of manly enjoyment. His quick success was mostly due to the strong understanding of graphic design and also to the adaptability of his designs to wood engraving.