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Winslow Homer - The Illustrator: His Wood Engravings 1857-1888
January 17 March 7, 2004
This exhibition begins with the 1857 work of a then-little-known but promising 21-year-old artist, Winslow Homer (1836 - 1888). We witness his growth over a thirty-year period as he develops from a self-taught illustrator to a major figure in 19th century American art.
Homer's black and white narratives tell the story of America: first-person glimpses of 19th century life in this country: history, culture, and morals. His engravings are revealing portrayals of American life along the Eastern seaboard -- the seasons, landscapes, the ocean, fishermen, factory workers, children at play, parties, holidays, and Americans abroad. But the exhibition also includes almost fifty images of the Civil War. (right: Winslow Homer (1836-1910), Thanksgiving in Camp, 1882, wood engraving, from the exhibition Winslow Homer the Illustrator from the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Winter Park, Florida)
Homer was raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, then a semi-rural town. As a teenager, he was apprenticed to a lithographer. By 1857, he was already a free-lance artist and illustrator, contributing to Harper's Weekly and Ballou's Pictorial. Two years later Homer moved to New York to work as a magazine illustrator. Throughout his life, he also worked in oils and watercolor, although his fame as a painter did not come until later in his life.
As an engraver, Homer worked within the limits of a black and white medium better than anyone. His early training as an engraver and lithographer served him well. He drew in pencil directly onto the surface of a hardwood block that had been polished and whitened. An engraver would cut away all of the white surfaces, leaving a linear design consisting of a series of ridges. The raised surfaces then were inked to print an impression.
During the Civil War, Homer was sent to the front as an artist-correspondent for Harper's Weekly, where his war images graphically carried their readers to the battlefield and behind the lines. Double-page wood engravings of his illustrations of battles and camp scenes appeared in Harpers throughout the war years. After the war, Harper's Weekly sent him to Europe to chronicle the lives of Americans abroad, which produced some of his most unselfconscious and intimate work.
Perhaps because of his experience covering the horror of Civil War battles, in his later years, Homer chose to portray a gentle, idealized version of the leisure life of Americans, by the sea, in the Adirondacks, and in Europe, untouched by the effects of Reconstructionor the Industrial Revolution. He had a particular talent for portraying children, with an emphasis on the carefree nature of their lives. His 1873 "Snap-the-Whip" may be the most famous depiction ever of American children at play. Homer died in Maine in 1910.
This exhibition is on loan from the Cornell Fine Arts Museum in Winter Park, Florida, repository one of the largest and finest collections of Homer prints.
On view in the William Keith Room: After Munich: Portraits and Watercolors 1885 - 1902
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