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A Veteran in a New Field, c.1865

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1 A Veteran in a New Field, c.1865
Winslow Homer

2 Winslow Homer c. 1890

3 Winslow 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.


5 Born 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.

6 Largely self-taught, Homer began his career working as a commercial illustrator.

7 He 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.

8 Homer 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.

9 Homer’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.

10 After 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”.

11 He 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.”

12 Homer’s career as an illustrator lasted nearly twenty years.
He contributed to magazines such as Ballou's Pictorial and Harper's Weekly

13 The 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.




17 Homer's studio In 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.

18 In 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.

19 His 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.

20 Although 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.

21 The 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)

22 Sharpshooter on Picket Duty

23 Home Sweet Home

24 Prisoners from the Front

25 He 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.

26 After 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.


28 At 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.

29 One 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.”

30 Critics 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.”

31 Early 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.

32 Prisoners from the Front

33 Homer 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.

34 Manet

35 Though 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.

36 Monet

37 Unfortunately, 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.”



40 Throughout 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.

41 Country School

42 The Morning Bell

43 His 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."

44 Snap-The-Whip

45 Many 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.”


47 Visits 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)

48 Dressed for the Carnival

49 A Visit from the Old Mistress

50 Homer 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.

51 Here, 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.

52 Schooner at Sunset


54 Sailing a Dory

55 House in Santigo Cuba

56 Blackboard





61 The Fog Warning

62 Eight Bells


64 After General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in April 1865, the Union and Confederate armies were peacefully disbanded.






70 The soldiers who had survived the ordeal were free to go home and resume their pre-war occupations.


72 Painted 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.

73 The 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.

74 The redemptive feature is the bountiful wheat—a northern crop—which could connote the Union's victory.

75 With its dual references to death and life, Homer's iconic composition offers a powerful meditation on America's sacrifices and its potential for recovery.

76 The 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.

77 The 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.

78 The 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.

79 Winslow 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.





84 In the sketches he made to accompany military reports, Homer tended to focus on the commonplace activities of a soldier’s life rather than the climax of combat.

85 When he returned to civilian life and began to paint in oil, Homer continued to favor themes from ordinary life, such as this image of a soldier resuming work in the fields.


87 The 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.

88 Because 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.

89 One particularly disturbing photograph of soldiers who had died in battle at Gettysburg was published with the title “A Harvest of Death.”


91 In keeping with those undertones, Homer’s veteran handles a single-bladed scythe.

92 By 1865, that simple farming implement was already out of date; a farmer would have used the more efficient cradle to mow a field that size.

93 In the original version of the painting, the veteran did work with a cradled scythe (its outline is faintly visible on the left side of the canvas), but Homer evidently decided to paint it out.


95 He 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.


97 The Veteran in a New Field refers both to the desolation caused by the war and
the country’s hope for the future.

98 It summons up the conflicting emotions that took hold of Americans—
Relief that the Civil War was over, and Grief for the many lives that had been lost.

99 Nor did the loss of lives end on the battlefield;
Only days after Appomattox came the assassination of Abraham Lincoln The nation sank into a collective state of mourning.

100 The Veteran in a New Field thus takes on another dimension,
An expression of despair over the senseless death of a great president.

101 The image of a soldier returning to his farm would have reassured Homer’s audience that life went on.

102 The 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.

103 Even in the aftermath of the worst disasters, the artist seems to say, life has the capacity to restore itself.

104 Influence Homer 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.

105 American 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).

106 The Mowing, by NC Weyth

107 Perhaps Homer's austere individualism is best captured in his admonition to artists:
"Look at nature, work independently, and solve your own problems."


109 The Lifeline

110 Civil War Dresses

111 Glouster

112 Come 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?)

113 Above 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,

114 She 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),

115 See, 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

116 Essay Question 1 Because 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?

117 Essay Question 2 If this man had been in a grain field the previous year, what would he have been doing?

118 Essay Question 3 Please identify the symbolism found in the painting, A Veteran in a New Field.

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