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Winslow Homer in the National Gallery of Art

July 3, 2005 - February 20, 2006


Exceptional oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints from the Gallery's extensive holdings by distinguished American artist Winslow Homer (1836-1910) will be on view in the National Gallery of Art's East Building, July 3, 2005 - February 20, 2006. Winslow Homer in the National Gallery of Art spans the artist's entire career from his early oils, such as the Civil War scene Home, Sweet Home (c.1863) to late masterful watercolors including Key West, Hauling Anchor (1903). Approximately 50 works from the Gallery's collection are included in this special survey exhibition. (right: Winslow Homer , Breezing Up (A Fair Wind), 1873-1876, oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Gift of the W. L. and May T. Mellon Foundation)

The exhibition will begin with Homer's insightful portrayal of the Civil War with the oil Home, Sweet Home (1863) and the wood engraving The Army of the Potomac-A Sharp-Shooter on Picket Duty (published c. 1862). At the start of the Civil War in 1861, Homer was already working as an illustrator for Harper's Weekly and after visiting the front, became an artist-correspondent for the publication. Instead of combat scenes, Homer depicted the lives of ordinary soldiers between battles.

After the war, Homer returned to coastal and rural scenes of peacetime America, as seen in the oil Breezing Up (A Fair Wind) (1873-1876) and the watercolor The Sick Chicken (1874). He also explored the various occupations of women in the watercolors Blackboard (1877) and The Milk Maid (1878), and scenes of childhood in the wood engraving Snap-the-Whip (published 1873) and the watercolor Four Boys on a Beach (c. 1873).

In 1880 Homer left the United States for England, where he lived in the small fishing village of Cullercoats, on the North Sea, for two years. While there he documented the difficult lives of the men and women whose livelihoods depended on the sea. Moving away from the more celebratory mood found in his images of American life in the 1870s, Homer now began creating works with a greater sense of gravity and seriousness. Of particular interest to him were the activities of the women who remained onshore while the men went out to fish, and the exhibition includes works such as Mending the Nets (1882) and Sparrow Hall (c. 1881-1882) that movingly chronicle the seemingly difficult unending labors of their lives.

Upon Homer's return to the U.S., he settled permanently in Prout's Neck, Maine. Over the next several years, his work was filled with themes based on man's life and death struggle with the sea. In 1884, Homer began traveling to warmer, more tropical places such as the Bahamas, Cuba, Florida, and Bermuda. His dazzling watercolors of these places with their spontaneous, informal compositions and vibrant colors are unprecedented in his career. In Salt Kettle, Bermuda (1899) and Key West, Hauling Anchor (1903), Homer portrays island scenery as well as the day-to-day activities of its inhabitants.

In the last decade of his life Homer painted less frequently; however, the works from this period include some of the most ambitious and complex pictures of his career. Completed about a year and a half before Homer died, his last great painting Right and Left (1909) is both a sporting picture and a reflection on life and death. Two ducks are represented at the moment when a hunter in a boat has fired at them. The painting summarizes the creative complexity of Homer's late style with its unconventional point of view and diverse sources of inspiration, from the Japanese print to popular hunting imagery.

"Winslow Homer, one of America's most outstanding artists, is also one of our most well-known and well-loved artists. Therefore, it is appropriate that the Gallery's Homer collection is one of the country's most significant, representing the full scope of his production, and enabling us to present this great American summer exhibition in time for the Fourth of July," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art.


Exhibition curator

The exhibition curator is Franklin Kelly, senior curator of American and British paintings, National Gallery of Art. and a professor in the department of art history and archaeology at the University of Maryland, College Park. He received training in art history from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (B.A., 1974), the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art (M.A., 1979), and the University of Delaware (Ph.D., 1985).

Kelly's concentration is on 19th- and early 20th-century American painting. His publications include Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape (1988), Frederic Edwin Church (1989), Thomas Cole's Paintings of Eden (1995), and Nineteenth-Century American Paintings in the National Gallery of Art (1996), as well as articles and essays on a wide range of artists, including William Sidney Mount, Thomas Eakins, George Bellows, Edward Hopper, and Charles Sheeler. In 1995 he was the co-curator of the Winslow Homer exhibition, organized by the National Gallery of Art, and co-author of the accompanying catalogue. More recently he was the curator for Twentieth-Century American Art: The Ebsworth Collection, seen at the National Gallery of Art and at the Seattle Art Museum during 2000. He co-organized the exhibition Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford ,which opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2003 and will subsequently be seen at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and at the National Gallery in 2004.

Kelly has given numerous lectures at museums and universities in America and abroad. He is currently working on exhibitions devoted to the works of the great British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner and the early 20th-century American realist, George Bellows.


Related activities

A special family workshop will be held July 22 and 23 and August 12 and 13 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the East Building, where children ages five and up will be able to explore nature in paintings and watercolors by American artist Winslow Homer and create a colorful work of art with oil pastels. Winslow Homer: The Nature of the Artist (National Gallery of Art, 30 mins.) will be shown at 10:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m., and 1:30 p.m. and Winslow Homer: An American Original (Devine Entertainment, 50 mins.) will be shown at 11:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. The films are recommended for children ages 7 and up; seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Family Workshops are made possible by the generous support of ChoicePoint Government Services.

A Gallery Talk, "Winslow Homer in the National Gallery of Art" (50 minutes), will be given by Dianne Stephens in the East Building on July 7, 13, 21, 27, and August 1, 4, 10, at 2:00 p.m.


Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy these earlier articles and essays:

this streaming slide show:

Winslow Homer's Right and Left from the National Gallery of Art is a narrated show interpreting one painting. Narration is by Nicolai Cikovsky Jr., senior curator of American and British paintings. A transcript is included in the presentation.

this online audio segment from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts:

Art on the Air features two-minute radio artist and curator interviews narrated by Daphne Maxwell Reid and are produced by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and New Millennium Studios, and directed by Ruth Twiggs and Anne Barriault, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The broadcasts focus on works of art and artists, materials, and techniques. Sample selections from 2004 include Winslow Homer. (right: Art on the Air graphic courtesy of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)

these videos:

Winslow Homer: An American Original is a 49 minute 1999 HBO Artists' Specials series program directed by Graeme Lynch and produced by Devine Entertainment. The artist Winslow Homer has become famous for his illustrations of battle scenes during the Civil War, but he feels disenchanted with what he has experienced and withdraws to a quiet farm. There he meets a pair of teenagers whose lives have been shaken by the war. Together, Homer and the kids learn from each other and move forward with life.




Winslow Homer: The Nature of the Artist  is a 29 minute 1986 video directed by Steve York from the National Gallery of Art Series. The art of Winslow Homer is examined in this profile of the American artist, from his early illustrations of the Civil War and his picturesque scenes of the country and shore, to the powerful images of nature that characterize his mature and late work. Commentary by the American art historian John Wilmerding provides a guide to Homer's artistic progress and to his achievements, particularly his transformation of the watercolor medium from the purely descriptive into a highly expressive vehicle.





and these online resources for Winslow Homer:

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