Winslow Homer Biography Buy Art Prints Now
from Amazon

* As an Amazon Associate, and partner with Google Adsense and Ezoic, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
Email: [email protected] / Phone: +44 7429 011000

Winslow Homer was an American landscape printmaker and painter, who was famous for his marine subjects. He is often regarded as one of the best painters in the 19th century in America and across the world.

Homer is seen as a father figure in American Art. He began his career as a commercial illustrator, and most of his skills are primarily self-taught. While working as an illustrator, he afterwards jumped into oil painting and designed key studio works signified by the density and weight he extracted from the channel. In addition, he hugely worked in watercolour, designing a prolific and fluid work, mainly showing his working vacations.

Early Life

Winslow Homer was born on 24th February 1836 to Henrietta Benson Homer and Charles Savage Homer, in Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America. He was second born in a family of three kids. When Homer was six years old, his family relocated to a neighbouring town of Cambridge. His mother, a novice watercolourist, taught him the basics of her craft. This shared attraction to arts established a strong relationship between the two which lasted all through their lives.

On the other hand, his father was a business person who was not so successful. However, he was always helpful for his son’s arty desires. In fact, he even encouraged Winslow’s ‘leaning towards art’ by purchasing for him while on a business trip to the United Kingdom. He was always there for him whenever he needed tools that would enhance his skills.

At 19 years, he joined John Bufford’s lithographic firm. During his early days here, most of his works revolved around copying the arts of other painters. However, after a couple of years, Winslow was able to submit his paintings for publications in various periodicals such as Harper’s Weekly and Ballou’s Pictorial. In 1859, Winslow relocated to New York City from Boston to start his career as a freelance illustrator. After a year in NY, he displayed his first drawings at the National Academy of Design.

After the occurrence of the American Civil War, Winslow published paintings for the Harpers. However, he was distinct in comparison to his rivals since he primarily dealt with the happenings of daily camp life instead of drawings arts of the battle scenes. Even as the war deepened, Homer continued enhancing his painting skills. In 1865, he was chosen as a representative in the National Academy of Design. When his art, the Prisoners from the Front, was exhibited in the National Academy of Design, it was not only warmly received, but it also brought a strong national reconciliation mood.

His Travels Across the United States and the World

In 1867, Winslow travelled to France with his paintings and even lived in the City of Paris for almost a year. His stay in Paris coincided with a display of works by popular artists like Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet. However, he acquired his inspiration Jean Millet and the Barbizon School, a movement that also grew fame among the Americans in the 1860s. Throughout his stay in France, he also came across pre-impressionist paintings from Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet. The two artists were fascinated by the natural light effects, just like the Americans.

Unexpectedly, upon his return to the USA, Winslow didn’t display new drawings from his time in Europe. The critics of those days did not entirely accept Homer’s style of work, and most of them described his work as ‘unfinished’. But these critics didn’t stop Homer from doing what he loves most. As a matter of fact, he continued to draw pictures of rural American life in a unique style. For instance, there’s a painting where he exhibited scenes of rural school kids led by young mistresses without using the modern trends he found in the French arts.

His works started becoming popular around the 1870s, and in the summer of 1873 while at Gloucester, Massachusetts, he started to dedicate serious devotion to painting with watercolours. His watercolour paintings rank him among the best American Painters. All through his substantial rise, critical reaction to his work remained mixed.

In 1878, he was amongst a group of American artists that were chosen to represent the country at the Exposition Universelle in France, Paris. Often seen as a private person, Winslow's time in both New York City and France included a friendship with his fellow artists. During the early 1880s, Winslow became noticeably much more reclusive, moving from the noisy urban social life to a much quieter life in small towns. Some people allege that his relocation to the Island of Gloucester Harbor was as a result of various emotional challenges and heartbreaks.

After leaving the lively NY, Homer moved to a remote fishing village in Northumberland, England where he lived between 1881 and 1882. During his stay here, his artistic skills grew significantly. The new English coastal atmosphere came with a delicate and new artistic problem. Still, Winslow incorporated diffused light that was restricted in colour but substantially mixed in tone and subtle watercolours.

His Relocation to Prouts Neck

After returning to the US in 1883, Homer moved to the Prouts Neck, a remote fishing village located on Maine Coast. Although he travelled widely, he always returned to continue with his major drawings. He mostly turned his art and mind to subjects related to human fate in provoking the elemental forces of nature. During 1883 summer, Homer painted an impressive and large painting known as The LifeLine. In this painting, he exhibited the movement of an unconscious woman from a wrecked ship. On the following years, his interest shifted to the sea itself from the edge of the sea.

Probably, this was inspired by an alleged trip to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland in Canada. In one of his drawing, he drew men displaying their intelligence, strength, as well as experience against the sea. Although the epic narrative drawings painted in his studio in the 1880s lacked the sparkle of his earliest paintings, he continuously drew many vividly coloured watercolours during his travels to the Caribbean and Canada.

Legacy and Final Years

Winslow is majorly considered one of the leading American painters of the 19th century. His work based significantly in developing an American artistic awareness during a time when European inspirations were the topic of huge discussion by critics and artists across the United States. Homer’s firm independence was the source of inspiration for those of his time. As denoted by Mathew Baigell, Winslow transformed genre painting into formidable statements of personal awareness. His impact is also evident in the generations that succeeded him, such as George Bellows, Robert Henri, and George Luks. In addition, Winslow sea visions played a key role as an inspirational to Rockwell kent, who like Homer went to paint his drawings from the sea.

Rockwell’s deserted landscapes such as Wintry Scenes of Maine’s Coast is seen as a work that closely links to Winslow’s. Kent was even regarded as the best heir to Winslow Homer. Winslow's impact continued into the twentieth century, mainly among the painters who mainly were against the European stimulated arts. It is joyous that for a painter whose glorious career run through various media, from watercolour to oil painting to printmaking, that his impact would be equally diverse. Unfortunately, Winslow Homer died aged 74 in 1910 in his Prouts Neck Studio. His body was interred in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. His drawings, the Saguenay River and Shooting the Rapids remains unfinished to date.