Image of Winslow Homer by Naploean Sarony

Homer’s Eight Bells

The Portland (Maine) Museum of Art is re-opening Winslow Homer’s Prouts Neck studio after a six-year, $10.8 million renovation. The institution purchased the property from the artist’s descendants in 2006. Homer’s Civil War sketchings are some of the most iconographic images of the conflict, equal to the drawings of Alfred Waud and photographs of Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner in our visual understanding of the war. What is striking about Homer, and many other figures from the Civil War Era, is the length of their careers after the war. Already known for his Civil War drawings, Homer carved out a second, even larger career during the Gilded Age and well into the Progressive Era. He lived until 1910.

The Civil War sketches were works of realism, drawn for an anxious audience eager for news from the front in the age just prior photography’s maturation and widespread accessibility. The post war paintings are impressionistic, created by an artist using his full powers. These works represented America moving past the death and destruction of the war and reinventing itself for the modern age. At the same time they are somewhat idyllic in that many of them are outdoor nature scenes, eschewing the hard reality of an increasingly urbanized America.

If you have not been I recommend you visit the recently the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s New American Wing. My favorite Homer painting has always been The Veteran in a New Field, his 1865 work depicting a returned soldier who has put down his sword in exchange for a plowshare. The Met has many Homer pieces, some of which can be seen here.