Winslow Homer One of America's Foremost Artists

 

Welcome to the Winslow Homer Web Site

 

Winslow Homer is regarded as one of America's foremost artists, and this web site has been established to provide a guide to  sources of information for anyone interested in the artist. Whether you are researching for a book, an article, an exhibition, a thesis, for any educational purpose, or just want to find out more about the artist and his work or view some of his fine pictures, we hope that you will find information on this site that fulfills your requirements.

The web site was established in October 2000 and continues to be updated on a regular basis. It is hoped that with the help and support of Museums, Art Galleries, Educational Establishments, Private Individuals and Other Institutions and Organisations, that it becomes the definitive place of reference for all aspects of the life and work of Winslow Homer.

An ambitious objective is that in time, with the help and support of those mentioned above, an image of every known work produced by Winslow Homer will be able to be viewed on this website or by links to other.

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In March 1881, Winslow Homer, already well established as one of the foremost American artists of his time, travelled to England in search of new subjects for his brush. He found his way to the small, remote, wind-swept fishing village of Cullercoats in Northumberland on the North East coast where he lived for a year and a half, making numerous sketches, drawings, watercolours and oil paintings.

Although much has been written about Homer for more than a century, only in recent years have serious, detailed studies begun to examine Homer's English sojourn.

The Catalog section of the book lists the 170 works by Homer that the author has been able to identify so far as originating from his English sojourn. The majority of the catalog entries are illustrated with an image of the work.

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The Bay Hotel, Cullercoats, England, where Winslow Homer first lodged when he arrived in Cullercoats in 1881, was demolished in May 2005, and has been replaced with a block of luxury flats. The new development has been named "Winslow Court" to reflect the connection with Winslow Homer

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Winslow Homer  -  A Brief Biography

Winslow Homer was a New Englander by birth and long ancestry. About 1636, Captain John Homer, an Englishman living in the west of England and active in maritime shipping, emigrated to America. He settled in Massachusetts where, almost two centuries later, his descendant Winslow Homer was born in Boston on February 24th 1836. Winslow grew up in the nearby village of Cambridge, a short walk from Harvard University.  His mother was, like his father, of old New England Yankee stock, and he undoubtedly inherited her artistic talent. She was a skilful amateur watercolorist. She encouraged him when as a child he showed an aptitude for drawing.

 At about the age of eighteen, Homer became apprenticed to a Boston lithographer, John H. Bufford, in whose shop he was trained to copy other people's drawings onto printing stones.

He soon grew tired of this and at age twenty-one set himself up as a freelance illustrator. Much of his work was published in the newly popular pictorial weeklies including Harper's Weekly, one of the most popular magazines of the day.  Homer's subjects in these illustrations were nearly always the life he observed around him in city and country. He drew his illustrations on wood blocks which were then engraved by others, following the usual practice of the time.

In 1859 he moved from Boston to New York to be closer to the Harper's office and also because he was now determined to become a painter. New York was the centre of the American art world.  He took a few lessons at the National Academy but soon discontinued them, apparently finding them of little value.  At the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Homer began to report scenes of military life. He went to the war front in Virginia for a period in 1862 and from this experience came his earliest paintings.

 In 1866 he made the first of his two trips abroad, spending ten months in France. During this time he painted in Paris and its environs. Two of his paintings of the American Civil War were on exhibition in the art section of the Exposition Universelle in 1867.  After his stay in Paris he returned to New York where, in 1873, he began painting in watercolor as well as oil. Within a decade he had become the great American master of the medium. He ceased working as a popular illustrator in the mid-1870's.  By that time he was widely regarded as one of the most able and original American artists of his generation.  His work was always well received by critics but it sold only moderately well.

 As a person Homer was reserved and taciturn.  With the passage of years, he cared less for city life and its social involvements.  Always independent, from mid-life onward he increasingly sought a more isolated existence.  He never married.

 In the spring of 1881, at age forty-five, Homer made his second voyage abroad.  He settled in the fishing village of Cullercoats on the North East coast of England where he stayed for eighteen months.  He made numerous drawings, many watercolors, and a few oils.  He took as his subjects the sea, the coast, the fishing boats, and, most of all, the fishwives who worked in and around the village while their men were away at sea. One of his Cullercoats works, the oil painting, Hark! The Lark!, was included in the summer exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1882.

 On his return to America late in 1882, he closed his New York studio and moved to Prout's Neck on the coast of Maine, a rock-bound peninsular a few miles south of the city of Portland. Prout's Neck was inhabited for most of the year mainly by local fishermen and their families, and in many ways it was  a place  similar to Cullercoats.   In  July  and August,  well-to-do  summer residents, including Homer's parents, brothers, and sisters-in-law, swelled the population. For the rest of his life Homer resided in a studio-cottage overlooking the sea. He painted many of his major oils there between 1884 and 1910, the year of his death.

     Beginning in the mid-1880's Homer escaped the rigorous Prout's Neck winters by fishing and painting in such warmer and sunnier sub-tropical places as Cuba, the Bahamas, and Florida. From these visits came a series of brilliant watercolors. They were rivalled only by those he executed in the Adirondacks during his summer fishing trips to that region of Northern New York State in the late 1880's and 1890's. His reputation as a major American master rose steadily throughout these years. His paintings sold reasonably well, though without the high prices earned by such international favourites as John Singer Sargent. In his later years, after about 1900, Homer was generally regarded as the foremost living American painter.

He died in his studio-cottage at Prout's Neck on 29 September 1910 at age 74.

 

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The  Artist  and The  Fisherlass
 

Susan Johnson explains how her grandmother came to be immortalised in the paintings of an American artist

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My grandmother was 14 or 15 years old when she met the American artist Winslow Homer. He was 45. Her name was Maggie Jefferson, and the year was 1881.

  He first saw her on The Bar, a reef jutting out from Cullercoats Bay.  She was working the rocks looking for bait, the water swirling around her boots, the wind in her hair, her serge skirt billowing in the breeze.

  Homer knew he had found the right location in this natural harbour in the far north of England. In those days everything was stormy: the sea, life, poverty and death. But the folk were hardy, strong, gutsy and - above everything else - proud.  Their life was built around the tides, the seasons, superstitions, rituals and the Fisherman's Mission.

  The community was tight-knit and had a richness about it that drew its members together.  They were law-abiding folk who knew their place and their God: He was master of all, the lynch-pin that held them together when the storms raged - and there were plenty of storms.

  Strangers were few: artists came and went, bur rarely stayed; Cullercoats could be hostile to strangers.  The village families could be counted on one hand, and consequently there were a lot of intermarriages which caused rows that could turn into feuds. But when storm clouds gathered, whether on sea or land, they stuck together and forgot their differences.

  It was into this wary 19th century village that the American artist came, dapper and bright, looking for girls to paint.  Would he be allowed to stay for long? In fact, he stayed for almost two years, and Maggie Jefferson aged about 18 painted some of the most praised and coveted work ever set in an English fishing village.

  Homer found for himself a tumbledown cottage, facing the cliffs so that he could be in touch with the elements day and night, and turned it into a studio. He gradually eased himself into village life, becoming known as the rich American who wanted to paint the fisher girls, and my grandmother seemed to be his favourite.

  Cullercoats must have been a healthy place to live in those days.  All the young girls carried creels, mended nets, strung hooks and raised very large families.  They were big lasses, strong-featured and bold, and they wore very colourful clothes: traditional hemmed pleated skirts, coloured blouses and scarves.  The wind would catch at the skirts and cause them to billow, showing petticoats or even red stockings; many went bare-legged.  Their hair was tied back with ribbons and slides, and their cheeks were rosy with the fresh sea air.  They were an artist's dream.

  My grandmother Maggie was such a girl - tall and wholesome, with clear-defined blue eyes, a straight nose and an engaging smile; she could hold Homer's attention.  She was at the cliff edge every day working the rocks, filling the creels and holding steady the cobles.  She was a hardy girl, and he saw in her the images he wished to place on canvas.

  Homer paid a shilling a sitting. A kind of hierarchy developed with Maggie being the favourite, which caused petty jealousies and, according to my mother, a falling in and out of favour with the other girls. He used to paint other girls, but often a cameo of Maggie would appear in the corner of the canvas.

  The fact that Maggie sat for hours, watching and not taking part in the hard work of the fishing village while Winslow painted the scene, was overlooked because the more she was painted, the more money she could give to her mother.  Fishing depended on the nature of the sea: the waves could be mountainous and last for days. Gales and swells took everything in their wake, and all the men could do was watch and wait for a lull. No fish meant no money.

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"Perils of The Sea" by Winslow Homer                                             "Flamborough Head by Winslow Homer 
Clark Art Institute, Massachusetts                                     Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois 
                                                                                                  (The model is Maggie Jefferson)     

 

So for hours Maggie sat on the cliffs, mending nets, looking out for the return of the cobles with her father, carrying the creels up the sands, walking out purposefully in the early morning to greet the boats. In all these different activities Homer painted her with fervour to catch the moment.

  What were her thoughts as she sat there? Did she day-dream, or was her mind totally absorbed by just sitting? Did he talk to her of his life, his childhood, or describe the life he had left behind in America? Or was he as absorbed in the moment as she was?

  As an uneducated girl, she would have been unable to engage in intellectual conversation, but she was spiritually rich.  Her knowledge of the sea was her intelligence - changes in the weather, darkening clouds, gathering storms, the cycle of the tides, the migrations of birds, the salmon season. These she could relate to him because her life was dictated by the sea and all who worked with it. She saw the same life for herself as for her mother and she was grateful, because she knew no other way.  No wonder she felt flattered by this excitement in her young days.

  Even when Homer travelled further down the coast and painted the cliffs at Flamborough Head, he still placed Maggie in the landscape.  He became well respected and mixed with the local men as well as the merchants of the day. Quiet and studious but influential, he gave the villagers an idea of what benefits an education could bring.

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When he left, Homer wanted to take my grandmother with him: what a different tale that would have made. But instead he took with him images of Cullercoats history that now hang in art galleries all over America. It makes my heart sing to think that Maggie is still there in spirit.

  She went on to marry a local fisherman, William Storey, and in their small cottage she bore him 17 children.  Some sons were lost in the First World War, while other siblings fell victim to diphtheria and other childhood illnesses of the time.

  William was a typically blunt, hardy, uneducated Cullercoats man, but gained renown by taking part in 1914 in a lifeboat rescue off the coast of Whitby involving a stricken hospital ship, Rohilla, with 229 people on board.  All navigational lights had been extinguished because of the war, and with only lamps to guide the way, the lifeboat crew saved more than 50 doctors and nurses who would otherwise have perished in the mountainous waves.

  The 45-mile journey through a boiling sea might today be considered foolhardy, but in those days it was part of the job. The incident is regarded as one of the most outstanding rescues in the history of the RNLI.

  Maggie carried the creel all her life, selling fish, baiting lines and raising a family. She was a robust and placid woman, kind and gentle and well respected in the village.  Her beauty was enhanced rather than diminished by the passing years, and her complexion was the envy of many a woman a quarter of her age. She was one of the last remaining fishwives in Cullercoats and when she died in her 89th year she left 57 descendants. She never forgot Homer, but kept many of her thoughts to herself.  Perhaps she was recalling those Maggie in her late 60's, with husband William Storey magical days when she was 15, looking out to sea at Cullercoats Bay with the quiet handsome stranger from America.

Winslow-Homer.org