Portland Museum of Art

Portland, Maine



Winslow Homer: Facing Nature

May 9 to September 27, 1998


Wild Geese in Flight, 1897, oil on canvas, 33 7/8 x 49 3/4, bequest of Charles Shipman Payson

The Portland Museum of Art will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Charles Shipman Payson Building, designed by I.M. Pei and Partners, with the exhibition Winslow Homer: Facing Nature. The impetus for the creation of this landmark building was Mr. Payson's gift to the Museum of his collection of works by Winslow Homer (183 6-1910), featuring 13 watercolors and four oils. Along with the remarkable paintings from the Charles Shipman Payson Collection, the exhibition will feature works from the private collection of the William M.B. Berger Charitable Trust including a rare and early Prouts Neck painting. Drawings, wood engravings, oils, and watercolors from other private collections and institutions will also complement the exhibition. Winslow Homer: Facing Nature will be on view at the Portland Museum of Art from May 9 to September 27, 1998.


Leaping Trout, 1889, watercolor on paper, 13 7/8 x 19 inches, bequest of Charles Shipman Payson


Winslow Homer: Facing Nature addresses the prevailing theme of nature in the artist's work. Homer's engagement with the natural world was a constant in a career otherwise marked by regular changes in subject matter, venue, and tone. Whether painting on the coast of Maine or in the Adirondacks or the Caribbean, Homer used images of the human experience in nature to explore his major themes. Winslow Homer: Facing Nature will span the full range of the artist's career, from harrowing scenes of the Civil War to idyllic images of post-war rural life to rugged, raw and powerful paintings of the sea and inland wilderness.

The earliest works in the exhibition are two childhood sketches that show the budding ten-year-old artist already studying the world around him. Adolescence (1846) and Farm Scene (1847), both from the collection of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, offer lyrical depictions of rural life. Homer would develop this theme more fully as an adult in the late 1860s and 1870s. In the years following the Civil War, Homer retreated to the countryside of New York and Massachusetts where he painted watercolors and oils that depicted the landscape as a place of leisure and solace. These works stand in stark contrast to his earlier images of the Civil War in which the natural world was the setting for predation, violence, and desolation.


Weatherbeaten, 1894, oil on canvas, 28 1/2 x 48 3/8, bequest of Charles Shipman Payson, photo by Benjamin Magro


Homer's paintings of the 1860s and 1870s were closely allied to his work as an illustrator for periodicals such as Harper's Weekly. The drawings that he provided as the basis for published wood engravings helped him develop his gift for pictorial narrative. Wood engravings like The Fishing Party (1869) and Snap the Whip (1873) show Homer perceptively recording and commenting on contemporary life. In The Artist in the Country (1869) and the related painting, Artists Sketching in the White Mountains (1868), he documented the phenomenon of artists traveling to remote and unspoiled landscapes to paint directly from nature. At the end of this period, Homer turned his back on his career as an illustrator and devoted himself exclusively to painting.


Boy in a Boatyard, 1873, watercolor and tempera with graphite pencil, 7 3/8 x 13 3/4, bequest of Charles Shipman Payson


Two Men in a Canoe, 1895, 13 x 19 1/4 inches, gift of Charles Shipman Payson

This new direction was solidified during a year spent in the coastal English village of Cullercoats. There he created a moving series of paintings, including The Breakwater, Cullercoats (1882), depicting the fishermen and women whose lives were dependent upon and vulnerable to the sea. Upon his return to the United States, he continued this direction, settling at Prouts Neck on the southern coast of Maine. For the last three decades of his career, he divided his time between Maine and travels to the Adirondacks, Canada, Bermuda and the Caribbean. In all of these locales, he continued to explore his potent themes of survival and mortality through increasingly powerful images of man and his relationship to untamed nature. The culminating paintings of his career, such as Weatherbeaten (1894), are pure and powerful images of nature's force.

Winslow Homer: Facing Nature will be accompanied by an illustrated exhibition brochure featuring an essay by the curator, Jessica Nicoll, and by a catalogue Winslow Homer at the Portland Museum of Art available in the Museum Shop in May. The exhibition is sponsored by Shop'n Save supermarkets with additional support provided by Mainebiz, and Migis Lodge.

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/26/10

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