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Winslow Homer



by Danielle Peltakian

At a time when the Civil War was front-page news, artist Winslow Homer traveled to the front lines and illustrated the revolutionary events for all of America to see. From here, Winslow Homer went on to create some of the periodís most prized landscapes and seascapes.

Table of Contents


Winslow Homer was born on February 24, 1836 in Boston, MA to a middle-class family. No record of the artistís formal training exists. However, it has been noted that his mother, Henrietta Benson Homer, was an amateur watercolorist of unusual talent. At the age of 19, Homer worked as an apprentice under Boston lithographer John H. Bufford.

After three years as an apprentice, Homer opened a studio in Boston, where he began his career as a freelance illustrator. Over the next twenty years, he worked as a correspondent for some of the periods most popular illustrated weakly journals, including Ballouís Pictorial in Boston, Frank Leslieís Illustrated Newspaper, and Harperís Weekly in New York. He quickly became the most celebrated illustrator in America and covered the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, Harperís Weekly sent the artist to the front lines, where he studied the mundane camp life of the war firsthand. In 1859, he moved to New York so he could be nearer to the offices of the illustrated magazines.

Homerís career as a painter almost exactly coincides with the Civil War. He received almost no training as a painter and only briefly studied under artist Frederic Rondel at the National Academy of Design (NAD). In 1863, two of his paintings- Home, Sweet Home and The Last Goose at Yorktown- were accepted into the annual exhibition of the NAD. Homer became an overnight success.

In 1866, his immensely popular painting, also of the Civil War subject, titled Prisoners of the Front was one of the few paintings from the United States to be shown at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Following the exhibition, Homer spent a year of study at the artistsí colony, Cernay-la-Ville, in the French countryside.

Upon his return from Europe in 1870, Homer was immersed in the booming New York art scene. He held a studio in the famed Tenth Street Building and was friends with American art critic and artist Eugene Benson, whom promoted the appearance of modernity and democracy in American art. He began to paint scenes of public schoolhouses, such as his Snap the Whip of 1872. The paintings of this period uphold the democratic beliefs he and Benson promoted.

Though Homerís paintings were generally well received, his painterly style often bothered many critics. They considered his brushstrokes to be too freely applied and much too evocative. In 1875, Homer furthered his painterly exploration by trying his hand at watercolor. In that same year, he ended his career as a commericial illustrator. Although the medium of watercolor was becoming increasingly more respected, Homerís works were often criticized, like his oil paintings, for their looseness and suggestiveness.

In the 1880s, Homer embarked on a twenty-month long trip to England, where he stayed in the fishing village of Cullercoats in Yorkshire. Although we may never know why Homer left for England, it is widely believed that the trip was intended to be an escape from a romantic disappointment. In the years to come, Homer never married and became increasingly reserved. Nevertheless, it was on this escape to England that Homer produced his first seascapes.

Upon his return to America in 1882, Homer exhibited his new works to a glowing audience. In 1883, the artist moved to Proutís Neck, near Scarborough, Maine. There, he retreated from society. Rumors began to spread that Homer moved to Proutís Neck in order to become a more devoted artist. Soon, the rumors turned the hermetic Homer into a heroic, national figure.

He continued to dominate the American art scene for the remainder of his life. In the early 1900s, he became interested in depicting wildlife and sport fishing. He was sometimes referred to as a ďsporting artistĒ; however, he never abandoned his interest in paintings seascapes. Many of his late paintings depict the Romantic subject of the tossed boat at sea. Charged with weighty brushstrokes, the paintings possibly suggest the artistís battle with loneliness. On September 29, 1910, Homer, a hero of American art, died alone in his studio in Proutís Neck.


Though Winslow Homer was not thoroughly instructed in the art of painting, his experience as a commercial illustrator provided him the training he needed to become an innovative painter later in life. Much like a photojournalist of today, Homer traveled to dangerous front lines in order to capture truthful representations of the Civil War. Today, these illustrations have become iconic imagery of life during the nationís revolutionary period.

Much of Homerís success as a painter is owed to these illustrations. His oils contain an authenticity that other paintings of the Civil War lack. Similar to his drawings, these early paintings are executed in rigid outlines and contain dramatic contrasts in light.

Homerís post-Civil War paintings are occupied with peaceful scenes of children playing in schoolyards, fishermen at the lakes of the Adirondacks, workers in cotton fields, and families on seashores. They capture the vivacity of American life during the post-Civil War period. The subject of war no longer takes precedent in Homerís paintings; rather, manís harmony with nature is expressed.

Homer never admitted to having any direct influences; nonetheless, his brush speaks otherwise. As the artist aged, his style matured from a rigid to a looser handling of the brush. Upon his return from England in 1883, he began to depict seascapes in an approach similar to the European Romantics of a generation earlier.

Homerís last paintings differ greatly from his earlier works in both style and subject matter. The watercolors and oils of his final years evoke a sense of somberness and often hold an ominous reminder of death. The nature in these paintings is no longer harmonious. The figures on the shore and the sailors at sea are helpless in front of Homerís threatening waters. Almost a prophesy of his own death, these paintings somewhat ironically remain as some of Homerís most memorable works.


  • 1836 Born in Boston, MA on February 24
  • 1842 Moves to Cambridge, MA with family
  • 1885 Begins apprenticeship to a Boston commercial lithographer
  • 1857 Begins free-lance work for Harperís Weekly
  • 1859 Moves to New York City
  • 1859-60 Enrolls in evening life-drawing classes at the National Academy of Design (NAD)
  • 1861 Homer is sent to Washington to cover President Lincolnís inauguration and the outbreak of the Civil War
  • 1863 Paintings The Last Goose at Yorktown and Home, Sweet Home mark his debut as a painter at the NADís annual exhibition
  • 1864 Elected Associate Academician of the NAD
  • 1865 Elected full Academician of the NAD
  • 1866 Spends a year of study in Paris and at the artistís colony in Cernay-la-ville
  • 1867 Exhibits two works at the Paris Exposition Universelle and returns to New York
  • 1870 First visits the Adirondack Mountains of upper New York
  • 1871 Holds a studio at the famed Tenth Street Building
  • 1873 Executes first serious watercolors
  • 1874 Visits sites in Northern New York over summer and exhibits at the American Society of Painters in Watercolor
  • 1875 First visits Proutís Neck, ME and ends career as a commercial illustrator
  • 1877 A founding member of the Tile Club
  • 1881 Travels to England, where he stays for the next twenty months
  • 1883 Settles at Proutís Neck, ME
  • 1884-7 Winters in Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas
  • 1889 Starts to make regular trips to the Adirondacks
  • 1890 Executes first seascapes
  • 1893 Enters 15 paintings at the Worldís Columbian Exposition in Chicago
  • 1895-1900 Travels to Quebec, the Bahamas, Bermuda, and the Adirondacks
  • 1898 Monumental two-man show with George Innes at the Union League Club in New York
  • 1899 Thomas B. Clarke sale of Homerís paintings takes place
  • 1900 French Government buys Homerís A Summer Night
  • 1906 The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchases Homerís The Gulf Stream
  • 1908 Suffers from a stroke
  • 1909 Travels to Florida
  • 1910 Makes a two-week trip to the Adirondacks. Dies on September 29 in his studio in Proutís Neck, ME

  • Art Institute of Chicago, IL
  • Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY, NY
  • Butler Institute of American Art, OH
  • Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA
  • Cincinnati Art Museum, OH
  • Cleveland Museum of Art, OH
  • Delaware Art Museum, DE
  • Detroit Institute of Arts, MI
  • Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA
  • Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, OK
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN
  • Joslyn Art Museum, NE
  • Krannert Art Museum, IL
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, NY
  • Milwaukee Art Museum, WI
  • Montclair Art Museum, NJ
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
  • National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  • New Britain Museum of American Art, CT
  • Newark Museum, NJ
  • North Carolina Museum of Art, NC
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA
  • Portland Museum of Art, ME
  • San Diego Museum of Art, CA
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
  • The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
  • Toledo Museum of Art, OH
  • Worcester Art Museum, MA

  • 1863-88 National Academy of Design, NY, NY
  • 1864-82 Brooklyn Art Association, NY
  • 1867 Paris Exposition, France
  • 1877-1909 Boston Art Club, MA
  • 1888, 1893-97, 1900-1910 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, PA
  • 1893 Worldís Columbian Exposition, Chicago, IL
  • 1900 Paris Exposition, France
  • 1901 Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, NY
  • 1902 Charleston Exhibition, SC
  • 1904 St. Louis Exposition, MO
  • 1907-08 Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.
  • 1973 Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
  • 1996 Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
  • 1999 Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY
  • 2005 National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

  • National Academy of Design
  • Tile Club

  • 1901Gold Medal, Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, NY
  • 1902 Gold Medal, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, PA
  • 1902 Gold Medal, Charleston Exhibition, NC
  • 1904 Gold Medal, St. Louis Exposition, MO
  • VIII. Bibliography

    1. 1. Beam, Philip C. et al. Winslow Homer in the 1890s : Proutís Neck Observed. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1990.
    2. 2. Cikovsky, Jr., Nicolai. Winslow Homer. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990.
    3. 3. Conrads, Margaret C. Winslow Homer and the Critics: Forging a National Art in the 1870s. Princeton, NJ: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 2001.
    4. 4. Goodrich, Lloyd. Winslow Homer. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1973.
    5. 5. Johns, Elizabeth. Winslow Homer: The Nature of Observation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002.
    6. 6. Kushner, Marilyn S. et al. Winslow Homer: Illustrating America. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Museum of Art, 2000.
    7. 7. Winslow Homer, 1836-1910: A Selection from the Cooper-Hewitt Collection of the Smithsonian Institution. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972.
    8. 8. Robinson, Bruce. Reckoning with Winslow Homer : his late paintings and their influence. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1990.


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