Winslow Homer, Two Guides, c. 1875
Oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 38 1/4 in. Signed and dated lower left: Winslow Homer/187(?)
It was most likely during Winslow Homer's 1874 autumn visit to the Adirondacks that he developed the idea for this painting of two recognizable mountain guides from Keene Valley, New York, posing in front of Beaver Mountain. Orson "Old Mountain" Phelps, the shorter figure wearing a typical Adirondack pack-basket, was a guide, philosopher, and local celebrity. "His tawny hair was long and tangled, matted now many years past the possibility of being entered by a comb," wrote Charles Dudley Warner in the Atlantic Monthly in 1878. "His clothes seem to have been put on him once and for all, like the bark of a tree, a long time ago." Phelps is pointing out something in the distance to the younger man, Charles Monroe Holt. In the 1890s several critics suggested that this painting could be interpreted as an older, wiser man passing on his knowledge to the next generation.
The guides carry axes and stand before freshly cut trees. Accentuated by warm light from the right, the two men serve as vertical elements to anchor the composition. Colorful wildflowers and ferns across the front of the painting add a lively staccato beat. Chocolate-gray mists float over the valley in lines that echo the general profile of Beaver Mountain and the clouds above.
This picture received little notice when it was shown at the National Academy of Design's annual exhibition in New York in 1878. By the 1890s tastes had changed, and Homer enjoyed more popularity. In that decade, Two Guides was exhibited no fewer than six times and received many favorable critical comments. The painting covers themes that Homer considered throughout his life: man and nature, the environment, the outdoors, and the suggestion of a story in process or an event unresolved.
Winslow Homer, Eastern Point, 1900
Oil on canvas, 30 1/4 x 48 1/2 in. Signed and dated lower right: Winslow Homer/Oct. 14 1900
By 1895 Winslow Homer had spent more than ten years at Prout's Neck, outside of Portland, Maine, where the simplicity of his lifestyle and celebration of his surroundings produced many of the greatest works of his career. It was in this joyful spirit that Homer painted Eastern Point and West Point, Prout's Neck. On January 4, 1901, he wrote to the collector Thomas B. Clarke that both paintings were "the best that I have painted" and that same year, to Knoedler's, his dealer, that Eastern Point was "too good not to be sold."
When Homer executed these two seascapes in 1900, he had been living with the sea for nearly twenty years, studying and painting it in all of its moods. As a result, he was able to grasp his subject and paint it boldly. The leaden sky contrasts with the surge of the waves and the energy of the spray. In the foreground, Homer built up layers of paint to describe both visually and physically the varied surfaces of the rocks.
Winslow Homer, West Point, Prout's Neck, 1900
Oil on canvas, 30 1/16 x 48 1/8 in. Signed and dated lower right: Homer 1900
West Point, Prout's Neck makes an appropriate companion to Eastern Point. In addition to boulders and plumes of spray, this canvas shows a brilliant sunset--Homer's last. The painting is not a statement of spontaneity and bravura, however, but rather the conclusion of careful observation. As Homer wrote to Knoedler's on April 16, 1901, it was "painted fifteen minutes after sunset, not one minute before, as up to that minute the clouds over the sun would have their edges lighted with a brilliant glow of color, but now the sun has got beyond their immediate range and they are in shadow. You can see that it took many careful hours of observation to get this, with a high sea and the tide just right."
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