Winslow Homer was born on February 24, 1836 in Boston and raised in nearby Cambridge. At nineteen, Homer was apprenticed to a lithographic shop. He found the job monotonous, so at twenty-one, Homer left to launch himself into a career as a freelance illustrator.
Although self-taught, Homer excelled in drawing. After moving to New York City Harpers Weekly, the most prominent American Magazine at the time, hired the young artist as an illustrator. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Harpers Weekly sent Homer to the Virginia front. Instead of depictions of battles, Homer focused on the daily life of the troops. His honest portrayal of the soldiers has become one of the best historical records of how they dressed and lived.
Illustration did not artistically satisfy Homer for long. Soon after the end of the war, he began to seriously pursue painting as his main source of income. Homer took lessons from Frederick Rondel, a Boston genre painter. After a month of the most basic training, Homer completed his instruction, bought some oil painting supplies and ventured into the outdoors to paint directly, observe and learn from nature.
Homer’s earliest paintings are genre scenes of American rural life. The unique quality of these scenes is found in Homer’s ability to paint the motif simply and directly with an eye for light and color. His fidelity to painting from life obviously enhanced this facility.
Homer lived a dual life as illustrator and artist until he was almost forty. Then at the height of his illustration career—he stopped. Homer turned his full attention to oil and watercolors. He continued to work from nature and develop his technical skill. Homer’s work simplified and became even more powerful. His watercolors show an ability and sureness of handling that few artists ever realize. Most of these pieces were painted outside of Maine and many were painted during his winter travels away from his studio.
In 1883, Homer moved from New York City to Maine and built a studio on Prout’s Neck. This was his home for the rest of his life. In 1910, Winslow Homer died in his studio at the age of 74.
Winslow HomerLloyd Goodrich
Whitney Museum of American Art 1973
Winslow Homer WatercolorsHelen A. Cooper
Yale University Press 1986
QuoteA painter who begins and finishes indoors, that which is outdoors, misses a hundred little facts…a hundred little accidental effects of sunshine and shadow that can be reproduced only in the immediate presence of Nature.
This making of studies and then taking them home is only half right. You get composition, but you lose freshness; you miss the subtle and, to the artist, the finer characteristics of the scene itself.~ Winslow Homer