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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Few artists have been as successful as Winslow Homer in celebrating the lives of ordinary Americans. He turned his attention on capturing those who the art world would normally ignore and the result was a series of paintings which are both charming and also technically impressive.

Homer's use of oils allowed him to add precision to his paintings that followed on from his experience as a professional illustrator. He would not add to many objects into his compositions, but what he did would always be finely crafted in line with the realism movement. He famously was once quoted as saying any more than two waves in a seascape was too much, and this underlined his desire for a relatively subtle approach to his work. The result of this was fairly calming scenes which remind some of the later work of fellow-American painter, Edward Hopper. One can quickly and easily access their paintings without any prior knowledge or significant grasp of American life or history. The mainstream would welcome their work with open arms and over time academics would also accept the technical qualities of their oeuvres.

The artist would originally learn his trade on the battlefield, covering scenes from the American Civil War. This was in conjunction with his work as an illustrator, though he found this to be uninspiring and would soon seek out more creative avenues for his talents. He received tutoring at a number of prestigious institutions across several different mediums and was now ready to set up his own studio. At this point, Homer would start to appreciate his independence and sought to expand his repetoire as much as possible. He would experiment with more drawings as well as wood engravings too, but oil painting was to establish itself as his main concern. It would also prove popular with the public and collectors alike, helping to finance his work over the next few decades. Some academics dismissed his work due to the content included, which focused on the lives of the ordinary, but others embraced this change from convention and applauded many of his highlight pieces. The same was experienced by the likes of Courbet and Millet during their own careers across in France, despite their collective genius.

Winslow Homer continues to hold a lofty position within the realms of American art history and is frequently mentioned alongside other greats such as Edward Hopper and John Singer Sargent. The three differed stylistically but was all interested in realistic depictions of every day life. Homer was specifically remembered for his focus on seascapes, and we find a number of sailors and fishermen in our list of his highlights in this page. He would also go on to tackle the same topics within his watercolours too, with that medium providing an alternative atmosphere to the same compositions. It was around this time that the medium of watercolour was truly flourishing, where as the use of oils has been a constant presence ever since artists started to move away from egg tempera, during the closing stages of the European Renaissance. It was specifically a number of Dutch artists who are believed to have first made use of oils as an alternative and the idea spread over the following centuries right across the continent and beyond.