3Winslow Homer (February 24, 1836 – September 29, 1910) an American landscape painter and printmaker, best known for his marine subjects.He is considered one of the foremost painters in 19th century America and a preeminent figure in American art.
5Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1836, Homer was the second of three sons of Charles Savage Homer and Henrietta Benson Homer, both from long lines of New Englanders.His mother was a gifted amateur watercolorist and Homer’s first teacher, and she and her son had a close relationship throughout their lives. Homer took on many of her traits, including her quiet, strong-willed, terse, sociable nature; her dry sense of humor; and her artistic talent.
6Largely self-taught, Homer began his career working as a commercial illustrator.
7He 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.
8Homer had a happy childhood, growing up mostly in then rural Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was an average student, but his art talent was on display early.
9Homer’s father was a volatile, restless businessman who was always looking to “make a killing”. When Homer was thirteen, Charles gave up the hardware store business to seek a fortune in the California gold rush.When that failed, Charles left his family and went to Europe to raise capital for other get-rich-quick schemes that didn’t materialize.
10After Homer’s high school graduation, his father saw an ad in the newspaper and arranged for an apprenticeship.Homer’s apprenticeship to a Boston commercial lithographer at the age of 19, was a formative but “treadmill experience”.
11He worked repetitively on sheet music covers and other commercial work for two years. By 1857, his freelance career was underway after he turned down an offer to join the staff of Harper's Weekly.“From the time I took my nose off that lithographic stone”, Homer later stated, “I have had no master, and never shall have any.”
12Homer’s career as an illustrator lasted nearly twenty years. He contributed to magazines such as Ballou's Pictorial and Harper's Weekly
13The market for illustrations was growing rapidly, and when fads and fashions were changing quickly. His early works, mostly commercial engravings of urban and country social scenes, are characterized by clean outlines, simplified forms, dramatic contrast of light and dark, and lively figure groupings — qualities that remained important throughout his career.His quick success was mostly due to this strong understanding of graphic design and also to the adaptability of his designs to wood engraving.
17Homer's studioIn 1859, he opened a studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City, the artistic and publishing capital of the United States.Until 1863 he attended classes at the National Academy of Design, and studied briefly with Frédéric Rondel, who taught him the basics of painting.
18In only about a year of self-training, Homer was producing excellent oil work. His mother tried to raise family funds to send him to Europe for further study but instead Harper's sent Homer to the front lines of the American Civil War (1861–1865), where he sketched battle scenes and camp life, the quiet moments as well as the murderous ones.
19His initial sketches were of the camp, commanders, and army of the famous Union officer, Major General George B. McClellan, at the banks of the Potomac River in October, 1861.
20Although the drawings did not get much attention at the time, they mark Homer's expanding skills from illustrator to painter.Like with his urban scenes, Homer also illustrated women during war time, and showed the effects of the war on the home front.
21The war work was dangerous and exhausting. Back at his studio, however, Homer would regain his strength and re-focus his artistic vision.He set to work on a series of war-related paintings based on his sketches, among them Sharpshooter on Picket Duty (1862), Home, Sweet Home (1863), and Prisoners from the Front (1866)
25He exhibited Home, Sweet Home at the National Academy and its remarkable critical reception resulted in its quick sale.Homer was elected into the National Academy as an Associate Academician, then a full Academician in 1865.
26After the war, Homer turned his attention primarily to scenes of childhood and young women, reflecting nostalgia for simpler times, both his own and the nation as a whole.His Crossing the Pasture (1871–1872) depicts two boys who idealize brotherhood with the hope of a united future after the war that pitted brother against brother.
28At nearly the beginning of his painting career, the twenty-seven year old Homer demonstrated a maturity of feeling, depth of perception, and mastery of technique which was immediately recognized.His realism was objective, true to nature, and emotionally controlled.
29One critic wrote, …“Winslow Homer is one of those few young artists who make a decided impression of their power with their very first contributions to the Academy...He at this moment wields a better pencil, models better, colors better, than many whom, were it not improper, we could mention as regular contributors to the Academy.”
30Critics wrote of Home, Sweet Home specifically, “There is no clap-trap about it. The delicacy and strength of emotion which reign throughout this little picture are not surpassed in the whole exhibition.” “It is a work of real feeling, soldiers in camp listening to the evening band, and thinking of the wives and darlings far away. There is no strained effect in it, no sentimentality, but a hearty, homely actuality, broadly, freely, and simply worked out.”
31Early landscapes and watercolors After exhibiting at the National Academy of Design, Homer finally traveled to Paris, France in 1867 where he remained for a year.His most praised early painting, Prisoners from the Front, was on exhibit at the Exposition Universelle in Paris at the same time.He did not study formally but he practiced landscape painting while continuing to work for Harper's, depicting scenes of Parisian life.
33Homer painted about a dozen small paintings during the stay Homer painted about a dozen small paintings during the stay. Although he arrived in France at a time of new fashions in art, Homer's main subject for his paintings was peasant life, showing more of an alignment with the established French Barbizon school and the artist Millet than with newer artists Manet and Courbet.
35Though his interest in depicting natural light parallels that of the early impressionists, there is no evidence of direct influence as he was already a plein-air painter in America and had already evolved a personal style which was much closer to Manet than Monet.
37Unfortunately, Homer was very private about his personal life and his methods (even denying his first biographer any personal information or commentary), but his stance was clearly one of independence of style and a devotion to American subjects.As his fellow artist Eugene Benson wrote, Homer believed that artists “should never look at pictures” but should “stutter in a language of their own.”
40Throughout the 1870s Homer continued painting mostly rural or idyllic scenes of farm life, children playing, and young adults courting, including Country School (1871) and The Morning Bell (1872).In 1875, Homer quit working as a commercial illustrator and vowed to survive on his paintings and watercolors alone.Despite his excellent critical reputation, his finances continued to remain precarious.
43His popular 1872 painting, Snap-the-Whip, was exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as was one of his finest and most famous paintings Breezing Up (1876). Of his work at this time, Henry James wrote:"We frankly confess that we detest his subjects...he has chosen the least pictorial range of scenery and civilization; he has resolutely treated them as if they were pictorial...and, to reward his audacity, he has incontestably succeeded."
45Many disagreed with James Many disagreed with James. Breezing Up, Homer’s iconic painting of a father and three boys out for a spirited sail, received wide praise.The New York Tribune wrote, “There is no picture in this exhibition, nor can we remember when there has been a picture in any exhibition, that can be named alongside this.”
47Visits to Petersburg, Virginia around 1876 resulted in paintings of rural African American life. The same straightforward sensibility which allowed Homer to distill art from these potentially sentimental subjects also yielded the most unaffected views of African American life at the time, as illustrated in Dressing for the Carnival (1877) and A Visit from the Old Mistress (1876)
50Homer started painting with watercolors on a regular basis in 1873 during a summer stay in Gloucester, Massachusetts.From the beginning, his technique was natural, fluid and confident, demonstrating his innate talent for a difficult medium.His impact would be revolutionary.
51Here, again, the critics were puzzled at first, "A child with an ink bottle could not have done worse.Another critic said that Homer “made a sudden and desperate plunge into water color painting”.But his watercolors proved popular and enduring, and sold more readily, improving his financial condition considerably.
72Painted through summer and fall 1865, not long after the nation came to grips with Robert E. Lee's surrender and mourned President Lincoln's assassination—both of which occurred during the second week of April—Homer's canvas shows an emblematic farmer who is a Union veteran, as signified by his discarded jacket and canteen at the lower right.
73The painting seems to blend several related narratives. Most soldiers had been farmers before the war.This man, who has returned to his field, holds an old-fashioned scythe that evokes the Grim Reaper, recalls the war's harvest of death, and expresses grief at Lincoln's murder.
74The redemptive feature is the bountiful wheat—a northern crop—which could connote the Union's victory.
75With its dual references to death and life, Homer's iconic composition offers a powerful meditation on America's sacrifices and its potential for recovery.
76The Veteran in a New Field depicts one of those Civil War veterans recently returned from the front, harvesting a field of grain in the midday sun.
77The wheat has grown high, and the field stretches all the way to the horizon; An unusually bountiful crop had, in fact, marked the end of the war.
78The farmer’s military jacket and canteen (with an insignia that identifies him as a former Union soldier) lie discarded in the foreground, almost covered by fallen stalks of grain.
79Winslow Homer completed The Veteran in a New Field in the autumn of 1865, only a few months after Appomattox.The artist was a sort of veteran himself, having served on the front as an illustrator for the New York periodical Harper’s Weekly.
87The optimistic spirit of Homer’s painting only makes its darker undertones more moving. The “new field” of the title can’t mean this field of grain, which is obviously mature and ready to harvest.It must refer instead to the change in the veteran’s occupation—which necessarily calls to mind his previous activity on the battlefield.
88Because some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War had been fought in wheat fields, fields of grain, in popular consciousness, were associated with fields of fallen soldiers.
89One particularly disturbing photograph of soldiers who had died in battle at Gettysburg was published with the title“A Harvest of Death.”
95He replaced an emblem of modern technology with the more archaic tool, and gave a picture of a farmer in his field an unsettling reference to the work of the Grim Reaper, the age-old personification of death.
97The Veteran in a New Field refers both to the desolation caused by the war and the country’s hope for the future.
98It summons up the conflicting emotions that took hold of Americans— Relief that the Civil War was over,andGrief for the many lives that had been lost.
99Nor did the loss of lives end on the battlefield; Only days after Appomattox came the assassination of Abraham LincolnThe nation sank into a collective state of mourning.
100The Veteran in a New Field thus takes on another dimension, An expression of despair over the senseless death of a great president.
101The image of a soldier returning to his farm would have reassured Homer’s audience that life went on.
102The veteran appears to have set aside his Army training along with what remained of his military uniform to harvest a field that once again yields the gift of golden wheat, which in Christianity is a symbol of salvation.
103Even in the aftermath of the worst disasters, the artist seems to say, life has the capacity to restore itself.
104InfluenceHomer never taught in a school or privately, but his works strongly influenced succeeding generations of American painters for their direct and energetic interpretation of man's stoic relationship to an often neutral and sometimes harsh wilderness.
105American illustrator and teacher Howard Pyle revered Homer and encouraged his students to study him. His student and fellow illustrator, N. C. Wyeth (and through him Andrew Wyeth and Jamie Wyeth), shared the influence and appreciation, even following Homer to Maine for inspiration.The elder Wyeth’s respect for his antecedent was “intense and absolute,” and can be observed in his early work Mowing (1907).
112Come Up From the Fields Father Come up from the fields, father, here's a letter from our Pete, And come to the front door, mother, here's a letter from thy dear son. Lo, 'tis autumn, Lo, where the trees, deeper green, yellower and redder, Cool and sweeten Ohio's villages with leaves fluttering in the moderate wind, Where apples ripe in the orchards hang and grapes on the trellis'd vines, (Smell you the smell of the grapes on the vines? Smell you the buckwheat where the bees were lately buzzing?)
113Above all, lo, the sky so calm, so transparent after the rain, and with wondrous clouds, Below too, all calm, all vital and beautiful, and the farm prospers well. Down in the fields all prospers well, But now from the fields come, father, come at the daughter's call, And come to the entry, mother, to the front door come right away. Fast as she can she hurries, something ominous, her steps trembling,
114She does not tarry to smooth her hair nor adjust her cap She does not tarry to smooth her hair nor adjust her cap. Open the envelope quickly, 0 this is not our son's writing, yet his name is sign'd, 0 a strange hand writes for our dear son, 0 stricken mother's soul! All swims before her eyes, flashes with black, she catches the main words only, Sentences broken, gunshot wound in the breast, cavalry skirmish, taken to hospital, At present low, but will soon be better. Ah, now the single figure to me, Amid all teeming and wealthy Ohio with all its cities and farms, Sickly white in the face and dull in the head, very faint, By the jamb of a door leans. Grieve not so, dear mother (the just-grown daughter speaks through her sobs, The little sisters huddle around speechless and dismay'd),
115See, dearest mother, the letter says Pete will soon be better See, dearest mother, the letter says Pete will soon be better. Alas, poor boy, he will never be better (nor maybe needs to be better, that brave and simple soul), While they stand at home at the door he is dead already, The only son is dead. But the mother needs to be better, She with thin form presently drest in black, By day her meals untouch'd, then at night fitfully sleeping, often waking, In the midnight waking, weeping, longing with one deep longing, 0 that she might withdraw unnoticed, silent from life escape and withdraw, To follow, to seek, to be with her dear dead son.-Walt Whitman
116Essay Question 1Because a seemingly dead seed buried in the ground rises as a new plant, grain can be a symbol of rebirth or new beginnings.What might a bountiful field of wheat represent?What might this suggest about the country after the Civil War?
117Essay Question 2If this man had been in a grain field the previous year, what would he have been doing?
118Essay Question 3Please identify the symbolism found in the painting, A Veteran in a New Field.