The National Gallery presents the first in-depth exhibition in the UK of the art of Winslow Homer (1836–1910), one of the most celebrated and admired American painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The exhibition, which will display around 50 paintings and watercolours from public and private collections, spanning over 40 years of the artist’s career, and presents an opportunity for visitors this side of the Atlantic to discover an artist who, although a household name in America. Homer is not well known in Europe. There is no painting by Homer in a UK public collection.
The exhibition will be both chronological and thematic and focus on powerful imagery of conflict and its resolution. It will explore the complex social and geopolitical issues of his era as well as broader concerns with the fragility of human life and dominance of nature.
Winslow Homer: Force of Nature explores show how the artist’s ability to distil complex situations to the most powerful, yet simple, compositions led to many of his paintings and dazzling watercolours becoming emblematic of post-Civil War American life.
Largely self-taught, having begun his career as a commercial illustrator for US publications such as Harper’s Weekly, Homer was adept at graphic art and visitors will see how he skilfully captured moments of historical significance without creating overtly political statements.
Highlights of the exhibition include his paintings from the front lines of the American Civil War (1861–1865), where he sketched battle scenes and camp life. The Civil War is the subject of one of his most famous paintings from this period, Prisoners from the Front (1866), shown at the beginning of the exhibition. Prisoners will be displayed with other Civil War-era pictures such as Defiance, Inviting a Shot before Petersburg (1864).
A section of the exhibition will be devoted to Homer’s return to the United States when he continued to be interested in the lives of African Americans after the end of slavery in a period known as Reconstruction (1865–1877). Homer’s A Visit from the Old Mistress (1876), depicting an encounter between a group of newly emancipated women and their former mistress. The Cotton Pickers (1876), features two Black women silhouetted against troubled skies while working in the cotton fields. This ambitious painting was acquired in New York in 1877 by a British cotton merchant who exhibited the painting at the Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 1878.
The exhibition will also focus on Homer’s time in England. In 1881, he docked at Liverpool before heading to London where he visited the museums, studying ancient Greek and Roman antiquities at the British Museum and British painting at the National Gallery, including Constable’s landscapes and Turner’s oils and watercolours of peaceful seascapes and tumultuous scenes of storms and shipwrecks alike. From London, Homer headed to Cullercoats, a small fishing community on the North Sea near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which provided him with poignant and inspirational motifs of the dangers and hardships of maritime life and of the power of the ocean. The exhibition includes paintings from this period such as Inside the Bar (1883) and The Gale (1883-1893).
Between 1884 and 1909, Homer travelled to the Bahamas, Cuba, Florida, and Bermuda where he created many watercolours which suited the subjects of warm clear waters, lush vegetation, humid climate and dazzling light. Homer considered these works as integral and important parts of his art and legacy.
His fascination with the Caribbean increased alongside his life-long engagement with the charged subjects of racial prejudice, geopolitics and ecology. This culminated with his landmark tropical painting: The Gulf Stream (1899, reworked by 1906).
The exhibition will chart the final years of Homer’s life when he increasingly retreated from large urban centres, living in nature on the rugged coast in Maine, where he painted scenes of symbolic reflections on mortality. Paintings such as Driftwood (1909) and Right and Left (1909) will be on show.
Homer, Force of Nature is part of the National Gallery’s strategy over the last 10 years of introducing British audiences to American art.
For more information and tickets, visit the National Gallery website here
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