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Winslow Homer
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Boston, Mass.
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Prout's Neck, Maine
A painter, etcher and illustrator, Winslow Homer created works considered by some to be the most powerful and expressive in late 19th-century American art. He was probably this country’s greatest watercolor artist. His oil and watercolor paintings are brought alive by the invigorating spontaneity of direct observation from nature. Born in Boston in 1836, Homer attended local schools in Cambridge, Mass. after his family moved there in 1842. His mother was a gifted amateur watercolor artist, and probably introduced him to that medium. He was apprenticed to a Boston lithography shop at age 19, and after two years set out on a career as a free-lance illustrator. His first illustrations appeared in the Boston weekly, Ballou's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion. He also sold drawings to Harper’s Weekly. Over the next thirty years Homer would create some 160 drawings illustrating texts in magazines and books. In 1859 he moved from Boston to New York City, where he worked as an illustrator for Harper's Weekly and other journals, attended classes at the National Academy of Design and took lessons in oil painting from Frédéric Rondel (1826-1892). The next year he exhibited his first paintings at the National Academy of Design. From 1861 to 1863 he made trips to Virginia to record Civil War campaigns for Harper's. Unlike most artist-correspondents he dealt most often with views of everyday camp life. Homer exhibited regularly at the National Academy of Design from 1863 and was elected an associate member of the Academy in 1864 and a full member in 1865. As the war continued, he concentrated more and more on painting. His Prisoners from the Front (1866, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art) won great praise when exhibited at the National Academy. In 1866 Homer travelled to France for ten months, where he was influenced by French naturalism, Japanese prints, and contemporary fashion illustration. Upon his return to America he employed a somewhat brighter palette. Although Homer spent winters in New York City, the city was rarely figures in his work. Instead his subject matter was outdoor life, reflecting his summer travels to Pennsylvania, the Hudson River valley, and New England, where he camped, hunted, fished, and sketched. By the early 1870s Homer still relied on illustration work, as few of his oils sold. Inspired by the British watercolors displayed in a large exhibition of drawings and watercolors in 1873, Homer focused on watercolors, which allowed him to make quick, fresh observations of nature. From the late 1870s Homer devoted his summers exclusively to direct painting from nature in watercolor. Greater concern for atmospheric effects and reflected light added complexity to the images and at the same time enabled him to achieve greater pictorial unity. In 1881 Homer went to England and spent a year and a half in Cullercoats, a remote fishing village on the North Sea near Tynemouth, where he focused on watercolor painting. After his return to America in 1882, the sea became his most dominant theme. He moved the next year to Prouts Neck, a fishing village on the coast of Maine. Homer traveled extensively, taking fishing trips most years to the Adirondacks, Quebec, the Bahamas and Florida, but always returning to his Prouts Neck studio to convert his sketches into major oil paintings and watercolors. He turned his mind and his art to subjects dealing with man's struggle against the elemental forces of nature. While solitude became a necessity for him, he received international recognition during the last years of his life, including gold medals awarded at international expositions in Chicago (1893), Paris (1900), Buffalo (1901), Charleston (1902) and St. Louis (1904). He died at Prouts Neck in 1910. In 1915 San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition displayed thirteen of Homer’s paintings. (Rev. TNB 2/2015)