Winslow Homer

born Boston, MA 1836-died Prout's Neck, ME 1910
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Winslow Homer, Prout's Neck, Maine, © Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum J0001697
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Prout's Neck, Maine, United States
Active in
  • New York, New York, United States
  • Gloucester, Massachusetts, United States

Painter and graphic artist. Homer's illustrations of the Civil War for Harper's Weekly are singular and outstanding examples of wartime reporting. Later, his dramatic paintings of the sea, many of which were completed at his seacoast home in Prout's Neck, Me., established Homer as a leading American artist.

Joan Stahl American Artists in Photographic Portraits from the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection (Washington, D.C. and Mineola, New York: National Museum of American Art and Dover Publications, Inc., 1995)

Artist Biography

Winslow Homer began his art career in 1854 or 1855 as an apprentice to J. H. Bufford, a lithographer in Boston. He left two years later to begin free-lance illustration. In 1859 Homer moved to New York, which remained his winter home until the 1880s, and studied for a brief time at the National Academy of Design and with Frederic Rondel. Between 1862 and 1865 he made illustrations of Civil War scenes for Harper's Weekly and turned seriously to landscape painting after the war's close. Homer was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1864 and in the following year a full academician. His first trip abroad came in 1866 and 1867, with ten months spent in France. During the summers of 1868 through 1881, Homer made several trips to the White Mountains, the Adirondacks, and Gloucester, Massachusetts. In 1881 he went to England, staying near Tynemouth, and returned to America late in 1882. The following summer, he settled in Prout's Neck on the coast of Maine, his home thenceforth. After 1884, Homer made hunting and fishing trips in the summers to the Adirondacks or Quebec with his brother and spent part of several winters in Nassau, Bermuda, or Florida.

No examination of the Barbizon mood in American painting can avoid recognition of Homer's singular contribution, despite the fact that his highly selective and independent course of study had only the most oblique connection with the art of the men from Fontainebleau. That Homer numbered among his few friends several admirers of Barbizon art; that he had ample opportunity to study Barbizon painting in Boston, New York, and Paris; that his favorite subjects included American workers on the farm or in seacoast villages, are all facts, but these facts do not adequately explain the peculiar appeal of Homer's special brand of realism. Nevertheless, during the years between his 1867 visit to Paris and his departure for Tynemouth in 1881, Homer executed several small studies of rural life in New England or Normandy that demonstrate a new sense of finesse in his handling of paint and diffused light, as well as an aura of circumspection usually missing in the artist's earlier work. His Two Girls with Sunbonnets in Field [Cooper-Hewitt Museum] from about 1877 is a remarkable achievement in this regard, a work comparable to the portraits of peasant youngsters by Millet that are so often enshrouded in the soft glow of twilight. The earlier Girl with a Pitchfork, [The Phillips Collection] which was probably painted from a Normandy sketch, is a prototype for the heroic fishwoman in many Homers executed much later at Tynemouth and Prout's Neck.

Peter Bermingham American Art in the Barbizon Mood (Washington, D.C.: National Collection of Fine Arts and Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975)



American ABC: Childhood in 19th-Century America
June 30, 2006September 16, 2006
"American ABC" demonstrates how portrayals of the nation's youngest citizens took on an important symbolic role in the United States’ long journey toward maturity and provides a window into the everyday life of the period—the world of families, children's
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An Impressionist Sensibility: The Halff Collection
November 3, 2006February 4, 2007
The exhibition is the first time this remarkable collection has been on display in Washington, D.C. Marie and Hugh Halff, who live in San Antonio, acquired these masterpieces during the past 20 years.
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Graphic Masters I: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
November 21, 2008May 24, 2009
Graphic Masters I: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum is the first in a series of special installations that celebrate the extraordinary variety and accomplishment of American artists' works on paper.
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The Civil War and American Art
November 16, 2012April 28, 2013
The Civil War and American Art examines how America’s artists represented the impact of the Civil War and its aftermath.
An oil on canvas of a man lifting a curtain into his museum
The Great American Hall of Wonders
July 14, 2011January 8, 2012
The exhibition The Great American Hall of Wonders examines the nineteenth-century American belief that the people of the United States shared a special genius for innovation.
An artwork image of a woman
Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano 
October 8, 2021May 8, 2022
This exhibition brings to life the Venetian glass revival of the nineteenth century on the famed island of Murano and the artistic experimentation the city inspired for artists such as John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler.

Related Books

The Civil War and American Art
The Civil War and American Art looks at the range of artwork created in the years between 1852 and 1877. Author Eleanor Jones Harvey surveys paintings made by some of America’s finest artists, including Frederic Edwin Church, Sanford Gifford, Winslow Homer, and Eastman Johnson, and photographs taken by George Barnard, Alexander Gardner, and Timothy O’Sullivan.
The Gilded Age: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Gilded Age: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum commemorates Treasures to Go, a series of eight exhibitions from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, touring the nation through 2002. The Principal Financial Group is a proud partner in presenting these treasures to the American people.
The Great American Hall of Wonders
The Great American Hall of Wonders is a vividly illustrated survey of the American ingenuity that energized all aspects of nineteenth-century society, from the painting of landscapes and scenes of everyday life to the planning of scientific expedition and the development of new mechanical devices. Each chapter comprises an essay and a selection from more than 120 illustrations. These include works by pre-eminent painters Winslow Homer, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Church and Thomas Cole.