Winslow Homer Biography

Winslow HomerWinslow Homer became famous through his lithographs of the Civil War, produced for "Harper's Magazine." He became immortal with his paintings of the sea and man's attempt to tame it. While Homer had very little formal artistic education, he had an amazing innate talent. And while he could be prickly and difficult to get along with as a person, many Winslow Homer paintings contain a sensitivity and love for his fellow man that is unmatched in 19th century art.

Early Life

Winslow Homer was born in Boston in 1836. His mother was an amateur watercolor painter. Through the work of mother Homer, Winslow was encouraged in his early interest in art. In Boston at that time there were no formal art schools that Winslow Homer could attend to learn about painting, so he expanded his visual art education at age 19 by working in the studio of a lithographer. In the beginning, young Homer spent his time copying works by other, more famous artists, but he soon began expanding and creating his own images.

In 1859, the life of Homer as an artist would begin. Winslow Homer would leave Boston for New York and begin a freelance career as an illustrator. He enrolled in life-study drawings at the National Academy of Design, and studied oil painting very briefly, when he wasn't at work.

Wartime

In 1861, Homer was sent to the front lines of the Civil War to produce lithographs for "Harper's Magazine." Unlike many correspondents of his day, Winslow Homer artwork from this period focused on the daily routines of the soldiers as they lived in the camps rather than gory scenes from the battlefield. Homer also produced many paintings during this period that discuss the impact of war more profoundly. The Veteran in a New Field is indicative of Winslow Homer paintings from this time period. The man stands with his back to us as he cuts down row after row of wheat. This is reminiscent of the battlefield, of course, especially since the wheat is a sort of bloody red. But the wheat is also very high, indicating how long the soldier has been away from home. This seemingly simple image contains a deeper meaning, a trait common to many paintings by Winslow Homer.

Shortly after Homer returned home from the war, he exhibited his paintings to critical acclaim, and was elected to the National Academy of Design as a full academician.

Post-War

In 1866, Winslow Homer took an extended trip to France. He did not take any more painting classes during this time, but the Winslow Homer artist was still hard at work. He produced 19 oil paintings and three illustrations during this time. Snap the Whip by Winslow Homer was painted during his time in France. This happy painting of young children at play stands in stark contrast to the wartime paintings by Winslow Homer.

Homer traveled frequently during this time period, visiting Virginia, London and New York. In 1881, Homer moved to the fishing town of Cullercoats in England. He would live here for two years, and embark on a series of paintings of the townspeople and their work. Winslow Homer paintings of this time focus on the women at work, mending nets, sewing clothes and waiting for their husbands to return home from work. These Homer paintings are discussions of how hard people have to work to tame wild nature, and how they sometimes do not succeed. Homer completed many of these paintings in his studio from sketches he'd made of his models. Increasingly, he came to love and crave his quiet time in the studio, until he began to want this peace and quiet all of the time. The Winslow Homer biography here takes a small turn.

Solitude and Death

In 1883, Winslow Homer moved to Prout's Neck, Maine. He would live here for the rest of his life. He had a cabin built overlooking the sea, and spent a significant amount of time alone. He was inspired by his solitude, and felt he had the mental space available to tackle big, tough subjects. Some critics believe some of the best paintings by Winslow Homer were generated at this time. The Winslow Homer Gulf Stream painting was generated during his time at Prout's Neck. Once more, the theme here is that man works hard to conquer nature, although the final message is quite bleak. A man lies on his boat with the masts broken. He has no control, as the waves whip about him and sharks circle in the waters below. This man has lost his struggle with nature.

In 1890, Homer abandoned the use of human models in his paintings altogether. The Winslow Homer painter instead concentrated on capturing the light and movement of the sea itself. These Homer paintings are remarkable in their use of color and brushstroke. In fact, they are nearly abstract in composition, and had a profound impact on later generations of artists.

While Homer spent much of the last of his life alone, he continued to travel and visited the Bahamas, Bermuda, Florida and Cuba. He always returned home to his work, however.

Winslow Homer died in his studio in 1910. While he was recognized as an important American painter at the time, his death wasn't widely noted. Only many years after his death, when people began to look closely at paintings by Winslow Homer and appreciate their technique, did Homer get the recognition and worldwide fame he so rightfully deserved.