Major exhibition at the Met of watercolors and oil paintings by Winslow Homer to examine the themes of…
Renowned for his powerful paintings of American life and landscapes, Winslow Homer (1836-1910) remains an important figure whose art continues to appeal to a wide audience. Opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 11, 2022, Winslow Homer: Cross Currents will reconsider the artist’s work through the lens of conflict, a theme that runs through his prolific career. A lingering fascination with struggle permeates Homer’s art, from iconic Civil War and Reconstruction images that examine the effects of conflict on the landscape, soldiers and former slaves to dramatic scenes of rescue and hunting, as well as monumental and dazzling seascapes. tropical works painted throughout the Atlantic world. The centerpiece of the exhibition will be the iconic Met The Gulf Stream, a painting that reveals Homer’s lifelong engagement with the charged subjects of race, geopolitics and nature. With 88 oils and watercolors, this major loan exhibition represents the greatest critical insight into the art and life of Homer in more than a quarter of a century.
“Winslow Homer is one of America’s best-known and best-loved artists,” said Max Hollein, French museum director Marina Kellen. “By focusing on the theme of conflict in his art, this exhibition will raise timely questions about his significance and appeal, encouraging a new understanding of his deeply thoughtful approach to depicting the complex social and political issues of his time, many of which remain relevant today.”
Sylvia Yount, co-curator of the exhibition and Lawrence A. Fleischman curator in charge of the American wing, said: “This exhibition will highlight Homer’s powerful oil and watercolor paintings on the Atlantic world in relation to his wider oeuvre, challenging the popular conception of him as the “Yankee” realist who painted primarily Northeastern subjects. In doing so, we hope to encourage a more nuanced take on his overall output, sophisticated artistry, and ability to distill complicated issues.
Stephanie L. Herdrich, the exhibition’s co-curator and associate curator of American painting and sculpture, added, “This focused examination of Homer’s distinguished career will highlight his continued relevance in his exploration of universal themes. , including the struggle of human beings with each other, with nature, and with mortality.We look forward to introducing Homer to a new generation as we ask new questions about his art.
The exhibition will open by situating Homer’s work in the Atlantic world, a diasporic concept linked to the geographic region along the Gulf Stream from the Caribbean to the East Coast of the United States and across the ocean to Great Britain. Upon entering the galleries, visitors will immediately spot the painting that inspired the exhibition –The Gulf Stream (1899, reworked 1906; The Met) – through a window that opens into another gallery. The installation then unfolds into thematic and chronological sections that explore the idea of conflict in Homer’s art.
The first section, “War and Reconstruction,” will establish the theme of conflict as fundamental to Homer’s art from the start of his professional career, when he worked as a “special artist” documenting the American Civil War (1861- 1865) for Harper’s Weekly. Homer probed the emotional and physical impact of war on soldiers and the landscape in a series of haunting paintings – from Sniper (1863; Portland Museum of Art), his first major oil, at Prisoners of the Front (1866; The Met). Homer’s later depictions of Reconstruction-era Virginia suggest his preoccupation with racial struggle and its uncertain outcome. Among his striking depictions of newly enfranchised black Virginians is Dressing up for Carnival (1877; The Met), one of many works that have been preserved for the exhibition, revealing new insights into Homer’s artistic process.
After the war, while maintaining a studio in New York, Homer followed travelers to seaside resorts in the northeastern United States, where many sought the restorative power of nature to ease the pain of war and as an antidote. to rapid urbanization. The second section of the exhibition will feature Homer’s earliest images of the seaside as a site of leisure and work at this time, while also revealing his burgeoning engagement with watercolour. On sight will be her widely celebrated Sea breeze (1873–1876; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC), an optimistic oil painting of men and boys at sea – a theme that would become a leitmotif for Homer. Other works depict children playing near the shore, such as A basket of clams (1873; The Met) and How many eggs? (1873; Karen and Kevin Kennedy). These seemingly light images evoke darker themes, foreshadowing the artist’s later seascapes depicting the dangers of maritime life.
In 1881 Homer crossed the Atlantic and spent 19 transformative months in England. He resided primarily in the North Sea fishing community of Cullercoats, where he produced a number of dramatic paintings and watercolors inspired by the locals’ enduring connection to the ocean. Upon his return to New York, Homer infused his art with a new gravity, painting harrowing episodes at sea. The third section of the exhibition will focus on the theme of rescue as it appears in works like The line of life (1884; Philadelphia Museum of Art) and Reflux (1886; Clark Art Institute). These as well as his depictions of fishermen working in the North Atlantic, such as fog warning (1885; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), reveal Homer’s interest in the gender and class dimensions of ocean peril, modern heroism, and human vulnerability to the dynamism of nature.
The following section will feature Homer’s watercolors of tropical destinations including the Bahamas, Cuba, Florida, and Bermuda, where he often traveled to escape the harsh winters at his home in Prouts Neck, Maine. Contemporary critics have often dismissed these watercolors as mere tourist souvenirs, but the exhibition will highlight the importance of these works, which allude to complicated histories, geopolitics, imperial landscapes and the threat of nature. For example, A garden in Nassau (1885; Terra Foundation for American Art) suggests the exclusion of black islanders from certain aspects of Bahamian society, while the consequences of bad weather in After the hurricane, the Bahamas (1899; The Art Institute of Chicago) departs from traditional images of an idyllic tropical setting.
Homer’s travels to the Bahamas and Cuba inspired The Gulf Stream, a monumental scene of conflict between man and nature. It is considered one of Homer’s most important works and is notably one of his earliest paintings to enter The Met collection. The ambitious oil depicts a lone black sailor facing devastating odds from the deck of a small, dismasted boat, threatened by sharks and a waterspout along the mighty Atlantic current. Interpreted by some as Homer’s rumination on mortality after his father’s death, The Gulf Stream also alludes to the legacy of slavery and American imperialism as well as more universal concerns about the fragility of human life and the domination of nature. A section of the exhibition dedicated to the development of this important painting – a process that took place over more than 20 years – will include a rare graphite sketch acquired by The Met in 2016 along with several related watercolors.
In the 1890s, after living nearly year-round in Prouts Neck for a decade, Homer re-engaged in oil painting, choosing his studio view of coastal rocks and turbulent ocean as his subject. major. The “Late Seascapes” section will examine these epic paintings in which Homer used increasingly bold brushwork to capture the changing mood and movement of the ocean. Many of these works, such as Northeast (1895, reworked 1901; The Met) and Early morning after a storm at sea (1900/1903; The Cleveland Museum of Art), focus exclusively on the physical environment.
Themes of conflict, struggle and survival that can be traced throughout Homer’s artistic career culminated in a series of works produced during the last decade of his life. A section entitled “Mortality” will present these dramatic late works, taken from a dangerous family adventure in Shooting the rapids, Saguenay River (1905-10; The Met) to a Darwinian struggle scene in fox hunting (1893; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) and a hunter’s deadly aim in Right and left (1909; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). The exhibition will conclude by highlighting the importance of watercolor in Homer’s legacy, examining how the medium offered him an intimate scale and fluid technique to explore the deep themes that preoccupied him throughout. of his life.