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By John Boudreau, Communications Intern

Though Winslow Homer is today regarded as one of America’s preeminent artists, he didn’t always meet with such universal critical approval during his career. In fact, some of the paintings that are now popularly regarded as masterpieces were panned by critics when they first came out. Do you agree with the reviewers? Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

Winslow Homer, Saco Bay, 1896. Oil on canvas, 23 13/16 x 37 15/16 in. (60.5 x 96.4 cm). The Clark, 1955.5

Winslow Homer, Saco Bay, 1896. Oil on canvas, 23 13/16 x 37 15/16 in. (60.5 x 96.4 cm). The Clark, 1955.5

Saco Bay, 1896

“[I]t has strong points in its composition and good passages in its painting, but the falsity of the crimson-edged clouds, which do not stay in place and are lacking in atmosphere, destroy the harmony of the work and make it a painting that is not satisfactory. It is signed by a great painter, but it is one of his slips”—William A. Coffin, “Society of American Artists. Pictures at the 19th Annual Exhibition,” New York Sun, 31 March 1897.

Winslow Homer, West Point, Prout’s Neck, 1900. Oil on canvas, 30 1/16 x 48 1/8 in. (76.4 x 122.2 cm). The Clark, 1955.7

Winslow Homer, West Point, Prout’s Neck, 1900. Oil on canvas, 30 1/16 x 48 1/8 in. (76.4 x 122.2 cm). The Clark, 1955.7

West Point, Prout’s Neck, 1900

“…[Winslow Homer] has one good marine with stormy waves dashing against rocks [Eastern Point], but its companion [West Point, Prout’s Neck], a buff colored sea with an inch of scarlet sunset between it and a buff sky, and some rocks pounded by spray that throws itself at one point into a stiff column, is hard in its lines, without air, disagreeable and cheap in color and altogether mournful”—“Fine Arts. Society of American Artists,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 31 March 1901

Reviews are excerpted from Winslow Homer: The Clark Collection, ed. Marc Simpson (Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2013), pages 102 and 114.

By John Boudreau, Communications Intern

Winslow Homer, An' Wal, He Up an' Kist Her,  publ. in The Courtin', 1874. Heliotype, 12.1x11.4 cm, The Clark, ND237H6.3c5

Winslow Homer, An’ Wal, He Up an’ Kist Her, publ. in The Courtin’, 1874. Heliotype, 12.1×11.4 cm, The Clark, ND237H6.3c5

As a former librarian, Lydia Ross was particularly interested in Homer’s illustrations for James Russell Lowell’s 1874 poem The Courtin’. “These silhouettes are unique in the exhibit,” she said, “which is one of the reasons why I like them.”

For Lydia, another part of the silhouette’s appeal lies in their intricacy. “ I just think they’re really beautiful,” she said. “Think how hard it would be to do those shoelaces!” Despite their precision, the advantage of the silhouettes is that they’re not overly detailed. “You understand instantly what’s going on,” Lydia said, “rather than studying all the details, like in [Homer’s] etchings.”

Lydia also appreciated Homer’s ability to convey the poem’s setting in a very subtle way. While the figures themselves are intentionally general, she feels that the accessories in the illustrations help establish the poem’s setting. “The clothing, the apple she’s peeling, the Windsor chair—it’s very New England-y,” she said.

Winslow Homer, There Sot Huldy All Alone, 'Ith No One Nigh to Hender, publ. in The Courtin', 1874. Heliotype, 11.4x9.2 cm, The Clark, ND237H6.3c2

Winslow Homer, There Sot Huldy All Alone, ‘Ith No One Nigh to Hender, publ. in The Courtin’, 1874. Heliotype, 11.4×9.2 cm, The Clark, ND237H6.3c2

But the most interesting element of these pieces for Lydia is the context in which they were produced. According to Lydia, Homer, a life-long bachelor, was likely smitten by Helena DeKay, a young artist who served as Homer’s model in the 1870s—see Portrait of Helena DeKay (1871)—before marrying another man. Although there’s little evidence to support it, it’s possible that DeKay served as a model for these illustrations as well. Through this lens, the silhouettes take on a whole new meaning. “I think he really loved her,” Lydia said. “The fact that he never got married but still made this kind of picture is another reason why I like them so much.”

For more on the possible relationship between Homer and DeKay, check out this article from Smithsonian Magazine.

Lydia Ross is a research analyst at the Clark. A trained librarian, she has worked in the past for literacy foundations and as a research librarian for consulting firms. She has been at the Clark since June of 2012.

By John Boudreau, Communications Intern

Though Winslow Homer is today regarded as one of America’s preeminent artists, he didn’t always meet with such universal critical approval during his career. This week, we take a look at some positive reviews and comments. Do you agree with the reviewers? Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Next week, we’ll highlight some not-so-positive reviews. Stay tuned!

Winslow Homer, Undertow, 1886. Oil on canvas, 29 13/16 x 47 5/8 in. (75.7 x 121 cm). The Clark, 1955.4

Winslow Homer, Undertow, 1886. Oil on canvas, 75.7 x 121 cm. The Clark, 1955.4

Undertow, 1886

“Though not remarkable for powerful drawing nor for any especially beautiful quality of color, this picture has a force about it, an air of truth, a fine sculpturesque quality of modeling that puts it far beyond the ordinary well-done sort of work that we are bound to praise for its honesty, but which does not excite our enthusiasm. In this picture there is a breath of great art…[Homer’s] ‘Undertow,’ by its virility, its truth, its sincerity of intention, outranks every picture in the Academy exhibition.”—“Fine Arts. The Academy Exhibition—I,” The Nation 44 (14 April 1887): 327

Winslow Homer, Shepherdess of Houghton Farm, 1878. Watercolor and graphite, with additions in ink and gouache, on cream wove paper, 11 x 19 in. (27.9 x 48.3 cm). The Clark, 1955.1483

Winslow Homer, Shepherdess of Houghton Farm, 1878. Watercolor and graphite, with additions in ink and gouache, on cream wove paper, 27.9 x 48.3 cm. The Clark, 1955.1483

Shepherdess of Houghton Farm, 1878

“Mr. Homer has started and has well under way a watercolor drawing taken from the studies, which is admirably composed. In shadow on the crest of a ridge in gently rolling country lies stretched on the grass, a young girl, surrounded by her sheep. The adjoining rise, on which are a few trees, is in full sunlight, up against which the foreground figures are sharply defined”—“Fine Arts. Studio Notes,” New York Herald, 11 November 1878

“McDonald called—Said 3 Winslow Homer watercolors would be there for me to see….The Winslow Homers came—A ‘Log Jam’ excellent but $3000—A Beach Scene not finished—A pastoral scene with ‘Sheep, Pasture & a Girl 1878’–$1000—I never saw one with sheep before—It was very poetic!!!!!!! [sic]”—Sterling Clark Diary, 29 September 1942 (74)

Reviews are excerpted from Winslow Homer: The Clark Collection, ed. Marc Simpson (Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2013), pages 86 and 74.

By John Boudreau, Communications Intern

Saved

Winslow Homer, Saved, 1889. Etching on cream wove paper, 42.8 x 76.4 cm. The Clark, 1972.16

For Julie Schwartz, the etching Saved immediately transports her back to the year she spent living on Nantucket. “On the island, your life is very governed by weather, and in the nineteenth century you can imagine how much more important it would have been,” she said.

Though Saved is not set on Nantucket, the life-saving technique Homer depicted was used on the island in the nineteenth century. “They would shoot ropes out to sinking ships with a gun,” Julie said, “then literally have a pulley that they used to haul people and goods off boats. Nantucket was one of the first ports to have several of these life-saving stations because shipwrecks were such a problem.”

The perils of the sea are a frequent theme in Homer’s paintings, and Julie suspects that it may have been a popular subject of the era. “People seemed to be very into the life-saving theme at the time, like Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa.”

Julie noted that much like the carefully posed figures in Géricault’s 1819 painting, there is a strong classical inspiration for the female form in Saved. “I feel like you can see some real parallels with the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum,” she said. “The figures are so dramatic.”

The heightened sense of drama in the etching is no accident. For his etchings, Homer generally based his composition on an earlier piece of art—in this instance The Life Line (1884)—but refocused the etching on the most dramatic moment of the painting or watercolor in a sort of nineteenth-century close-up.

Julie Schwartz is Director of Advancement Initiatives, a position she has held since March. Prior to arriving at the Clark, she spent a year on Nantucket with the Nantucket Artists’ Association and worked at Carnegie Hall. Originally from Stockbridge, Massachusetts, she says the Clark has always been her favorite museum.

By John Boudreau, Communications Intern

When talking about Homer, it never takes very long for someone to mention Prout’s Neck. The two are linked in the popular imagination, probably for all time. It might be said that it was here, among the rocky coastline and pine trees, that Homer did his most fully realized work—paintings like Eastern Point and West Point, Prout’s Neck capture the Maine coast in a way that few other artists have been able to. They are beautiful paintings, but they’re also savage, visceral representations of the power of the sea.

Winslow Homer (American; 1836–1910); Eastern Point; 1900. Oil on canvas; 30 1/4 x 48 1/2 in. (76.8 x 123.2 cm). The Clark; 1955.6

Winslow Homer (American; 1836–1910); Eastern Point; 1900. Oil on canvas; 30 1/4 x 48 1/2 in. (76.8 x 123.2 cm). The Clark; 1955.6

Though Homer spent the final decades of his life in Maine, he wasn’t the only member of his family to reside there. His brother Arthur built a house in Prout’s Neck in 1881, and Charles Homer, Sr. bought a home there in 1883. By then, the Homer family owned most of the peninsula. Today, a large part of the peninsula is devoted to a bird sanctuary, preserving the area’s untamed beauty.

Homer’s studio was purchased by the Portland Museum of Art in 2006 and renovated to return it to its appearance circa 1910. To do that, bedrooms had to be removed from the upper floor, which had an open layout when Homer lived there, and the enlarged kitchen was reduced to its original size. The studio opened to the public for the first time in 2012, allowing visitors to not only experience the atmosphere of Homer’s studio, but also to see tangible evidence of the artist’s occupation—Homer’s notes to himself are scrawled on the walls and preserved for visitors.

Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910), West Point, Prout’s Neck, 1900. Oil on canvas, 30 1/16 x 48 1/8 in. (76.4 x 122.2 cm). The Clark, 1955.7

Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910), West Point, Prout’s Neck, 1900. Oil on canvas, 30 1/16 x 48 1/8 in. (76.4 x 122.2 cm). The Clark, 1955.7

The central feature of Homer’s studio is the second floor deck he had built in order to observe the ocean. The incredible panoramic view from the “piazza”, as he affectionately nicknamed it, may have even overwhelmed him a bit, which could be why he was once quoted as saying “never paint more than two waves in a picture; it’s fussy.”[1]

If you’re interested in exploring the relationship between Homer and Prout’s Neck a little further, Tom Denenberg, director of the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont, will deliver a free lecture at the Clark entitled Winslow Homer and the Poetics of Place on Sunday, August 4 at 3 pm. Denenberg, who has published two monographs on Homer, oversaw the restoration of Homer’s studio during his time as chief curator and deputy director at the Portland Museum of Art.

By John Boudreau, Communications Intern

One of the great things about visiting Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History is that everyone who looks at Homer’s works reacts to them in a different way. They evoke different emotions, stories, and sentiments from every viewer. With Your Favorite Homer, we’ll ask some of the Clark’s employees to share their reactions to their favorite work of art in the exhibit.

Winslow Homer, An October Day, 1889. Watercolor over graphite, with scraping, on cream wove paper, 14 1/16 x 19 3/4 in. (35.7 x 50.2 cm). The Clark, 1955.770

Winslow Homer, An October Day, 1889. Watercolor over graphite, with scraping, on cream wove paper, 14 1/16 x 19 3/4 in. (35.7 x 50.2 cm). The Clark, 1955.770

For Laura Bonito, An October Day is one of Homer’s most articulate watercolors. “You first see the mixture of colors in the landscape, and then there’s the challenge of painting the water because it’s reflecting both the sky and the colors of the leaves,” she said. “It’s a very American landscape, but the mountains remind me of the mountains where my parents were born outside of Naples [Italy], so everything seems very familiar to me, but also very strange.”

It’s also a complicated piece. “If you look at the landscape you could think it’s a peaceful scene,” she said. “But it’s really very dramatic—the representation of a struggle between life and death.” The contrast between the beauty of the landscape and the tension of the action is what initially drew Laura to the watercolor. The painting’s composition, however, leaves little doubt in Laura’s mind as to which side the artist was on. “I think Homer is trying to paint from the perspective of the deer rather than the hunters,” she said.

In Laura’s opinion, “the landscape is the protagonist of the painting.” The hunter, on the left-hand side of the painting, and his dog, rendered as a few black and white spots on the right-hand shore, don’t appear to be the focus of the work, and the human element is both literally and metaphorically put in the background. Instead, the watercolor seems to be primarily a meditation on nature and mortality. “You see the same theme in John Constable’s Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds in the National Gallery in London,” she said. “It’s sort of the European example of this type of painting.”

Laura Bonito is a curatorial intern originally from Italy. She is at the Clark for the summer as a part of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ BHIP internship program, which pairs students interested in museum work with area museums. She graduated last year from the University of Pisa, and is taking the opportunity to travel and enrich her CV while working on her PhD.

By John Boudreau, Communications Intern

1955.4453C

After Winslow Homer, Combat Between Mordaunt and Fenwick, publ. in Surry of Eagle’s-Nest c. 1866. Wood engraving on beige wove paper, sheet: 18.8 x 12.4 cm. The Clark, 1955.4453C

Homer’s career as a commercial illustrator was in full bloom when he was tasked with illustrating John Esten Cooke’s novel Surry of Eagle’s-Nest; or The Memoirs of a Staff-Officer Serving in Virginia, a gripping and romantic tale of the Civil War.

A native of Virginia, Cooke was a voracious consumer of the popular literature of his day—including works by Sir Walter Scott, Washington Irving, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, initially with the 1st Company Richmond Artillery, and later as an aid to cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart. Surry of Eagle’s-Nest draws on his war experiences as well as his taste for romantic literature, and his post-war novels strive to reconcile the gritty reality of Civil War combat with the swashbuckling chivalry of Ivanhoe and Rob Roy.

This same attempt at reconciliation is, to a certain extent, visible in Homer’s illustrations. Gone are the large-scale depictions of hectic battle sequences found in Homer’s work for Harper’s Weekly. Instead, his illustrations for Surry of Eagle’s-Nest feature sabres, plumed hats, and capes. If the caption to Gen. Jackson’s Escape were deleted, the illustration could be used in any number of Romantic war novels. These illustrations are more cavalier, in every sense of the word, than the majority of Homer’s Civil War work.

The collaboration of a New York-based artist and a Virginian novelist the year after the Treaty of Appomattox was signed shows just how swiftly some elements of reunification proceeded. However, the fact that a novel that unrepentantly glorified the Confederacy was immensely popular all over the country is in turn a testament to how slowly other aspects of reunification progressed.

1955.4453B

After Winslow Homer, Gen. Jackson’s Escape publ. in Surry of Eagle’s-Nest c. 1866. Wood engraving on beige wove paper, image: 8.9 x 12.1 cm. The Clark, 1955.4453B

By John Boudreau, Communications Intern

After Winslow Homer, Our National Winter Exercise--Skating, Publ. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper 13 Jan 1866. Wood engraving on newsprint, Sheet 41.9 x 59.4 cm. The Clark, 1955.4694

After Winslow Homer, Our National Winter Exercise–Skating, Publ. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper 13 Jan 1866. Wood engraving on newsprint, Sheet 41.9 x 59.4 cm. The Clark, 1955.4694

 

One of the great things about visiting Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History is that everyone who looks at Homer’s works reacts to them in a different way. They evoke different emotions, stories, and sentiments from every viewer. With Your Favorite Homer, we’ll ask some of the Clark’s employees to share their reactions to their favorite work of art in the exhibit.

Though Homer’s oil paintings and watercolors receive a lot of attention—and rightly so—Alison has always found herself drawn to the artist’s wood engravings. “I think wood engravings are often overlooked, so I’m really pleased that there’s a whole room in the exhibition devoted to this medium,” she said. “The paintings are beautiful, but I just feel like these tell more of a story.”

The narrative in Our National Winter Exercise is a multi-faceted one. “You can see how playful it is,” Alison said. “This woman fell and her muff has gone flying and her skirts are up so you can see the hoop skirts underneath. But you’re also very much aware of being an observer because everyone’s backs are turned to you—there’s a sense of anonymity because you don’t see most of the people’s faces.”

Although an illustration for a newspaper rather than an iconic painting, the engraving is still very much a work of art in Alison’s eyes. “Even though the women are wearing skirts, I still think it’s a study of human form and movement,” she said. “You can still see Homer’s painterly technique—the way he manipulates the brush, his precision.”

Depicting the human body in motion is a trend Alison has noticed in other engravings by Homer. “The repetition of the four people holding hands in Snap-the-Whip (1873) is a bit like the group of skaters in the background in Our National Winter Exercise. These are older people, but in a sense they are still children, just dressed as adults.”

Alison Tinsdale is the assistant to the Chief Advancement Officer. She completed her graduate work in art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London and has been at the Clark since September 2012.

By John Boudreau, Communications Intern

In 1869, Reverend William H.H. Murray published a book entitled Adventures in the Wilderness; or, Camp-Life in the Adirondacks, which detailed the health benefits of vacationing in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. His book was a sensation, and scores of tourists rushed north from New York City to take advantage of the area’s clean air and pristine landscapes. Their vacations emphasized outdoor activity—hiking, fishing, and hunting—a far cry from the leisurely beach holidays popular at the time.

Winslow Homer, Two Guides, 1877. Oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 38 1/4 in. (61.6 x 97.2 cm). The Clark, 1955.3

Winslow Homer, Two Guides, 1877. Oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 38 1/4 in. (61.6 x 97.2 cm). The Clark, 1955.3

One such tourist was Winslow Homer. In 1870, he produced one of his first works set in the Adirondacks, aptly entitled An Adirondack Lake. It would, in some ways, set the mold for his later paintings: the Adirondack landscape is a tangible presence in the painting, but so too is the figure of a wilderness guide. These guides were often local men who took tourists around to prime hunting and fishing locations and otherwise ensured that their paying customers enjoyed their time in the woods. The guide soon became a popular archetype—“‘rough fellows, good shots, brawny and big of limb, the descendants of [James Fenimore Cooper’s] Leatherstocking’” as the Boston Evening Transcript put it in 1892.[1] These are the figures we see most visibly in paintings like Two Guides, but the guide also plays a minor role in other Homer paintings—notice the figure in the boat in An October Day.

Winslow Homer, An October Day, 1889. Watercolor over graphite, with scraping, on cream wove paper, 14 1/16 x 19 3/4 in. (35.7 x 50.2 cm). The Clark, 1955.770

Winslow Homer, An October Day, 1889. Watercolor over graphite, with scraping, on cream wove paper, 14 1/16 x 19 3/4 in. (35.7 x 50.2 cm). The Clark, 1955.770

Chief among Homer’s many Adirondack watercolors, An October Day captures the region as few other artists could. “The shores and mountains are splendidly dressed in the red and yellow robes of autumn, and there are vivid blue tones in the water of the lake. The coloring is intense, but it is neither unreal nor unpictorial,” the New-York Tribune raved in 1890.[2]

This realistic element in Homer’s paintings was arguably one of his greatest strengths. He made the Adirondacks come to life—no longer stationary landscapes nor an abstract stretch of forest, but a living environment that tourists, woodsmen, and animals inhabited. For those who couldn’t experience it for themselves, Homer’s Adirondack paintings served as a breath of fresh air.

A great way to learn more about Homer’s relationship with the Adirondacks is to attend the Clark’s next free lecture. Scholar David Tatham, who has published extensively on Homer and the Adirondacks, will lecture on Sunday, July 21 at 3 pm. His talk, “The Call of the Once-Wild: Winslow Homer and the Adirondacks 1870–1910,” will explore the holdings in the Clark’s collection as well as other Adirondack-themed paintings by Homer.


[1] Nicolai Cikovsky Jr, “Something More than Meets the Eye” in Winslow Homer, eds. Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr and Franklin Kelly, (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1995), 260.

[2] Susannah Maurer in Winslow Homer, the Clark Collection, ed. Marc Simpson, (Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institue, Williamstown, MA, 2013),  95.

By John Boudreau, Communications Intern

1970.1

After Winslow Homer, Fly Fishing, Saranac Lake, 1889. Etching and aquatint on beige wove paper, sheet 53.7 x 68.9 cm. The Clark, 1970.1

 

One of the great things about visiting Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History is that everyone who looks at Homer’s paintings will react to them in a different way. They evoke different emotions, stories, and sentiments from every viewer. With Your Favorite Homer, we’ll ask some of the Clark’s employees to share their reactions to their favorite work of art in the exhibit.

Geoffrey HeddenFly Fishing, Saranac Lake (1889) and Summer Squall (1904)

Although Geoffrey doesn’t typically pick just one favorite piece of work from an artist, he most admires Homer’s depiction of water. He cited the etching Fly Fishing, Saranac Lake and the oil painting Summer Squall as two idyllic examples.

“Water is tough,” Geoffrey said. “Water refracts, it reflects, it bends. It doesn’t have a hard angle, so light and water is really tough to capture. Homer does it pretty well in black and white, but it’s when he starts getting to color that he really shows off his skill.”

For Geoffrey, Fly Fishing, Saranac Lake serves as a good example of Homer’s early approach to depicting light and water. “The defining lines on the reflection aren’t minutely detailed,” he said. “You can see Homer has thought and realized he doesn’t need to have every line. Sometimes it’s a hint of something that creates the same feeling. I get reflection off of that. I buy it.”

The sea is a frequent subject in Homer’s later painting, and Geoffrey wondered if it may have mildly obsessed Homer. “It seems to me that somewhere this idea of water, the challenge of representing water, kind of took over some of his work,” he said.

Winslow Homer, Summer Squall, 1904. Oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 30 1/4 in. (61.6 x 76.8 cm). The Clark, 1955.8

Winslow Homer, Summer Squall, 1904. Oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 30 1/4 in. (61.6 x 76.8 cm). The Clark, 1955.8

In Summer Squall, the stormy matte blues and grays of Homer’s palette help set the tone of the painting, but it’s the artist’s work on the foam that Geoffrey finds most interesting. “That foam has got a unique texture to it,” he said. “Capturing it and giving it that little bit of reality is difficult. If you back up far enough from the canvas, the foam is pretty convincing.”

Above all, Geoffrey was quick to credit Homer’s skill as an artist. “A lot of people don’t understand the practice that goes into making art. You train yourself what to look for. You don’t know what it’s going to be, I don’t think, in each instance, but when you look at something and you decide ‘that’s what I want to represent,’ the rest follows from it,” he said. “A painting can be very simple and still evocative.”

Geoffrey Hedden is a shipping and receiving clerk at the Clark. When his wife found a job in the area 15 years ago, he found a position at the Clark shortly thereafter. “I was in the right place at the right time,” he said. When he’s not working, he’s likely to be found in the galleries.

By John Boudreau, Communications Intern

Homer_Snap the whip

After Winslow Homer, Snap-the-Whip publ. in Harper’s Weekly 20 Sept. 1873. Wood engraving on newsprint, Sheet 40.2 x 56.3 cm. The Clark, 1955.4354

One of the great things about visiting Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History is that everyone who looks at Homer’s works will react to them in a different way. They evoke different emotions, stories, and sentiments from every viewer. With Your Favorite Homer, we’ll ask some of the Clark’s employees to share their reactions to their favorite work of art in the exhibit.

Dana Audia, Snap-the-Whip (1873)

This particular print, which ran in the September 20, 1873 edition of Harper’s Weekly, has always caught Dana’s eye. “We played this growing up, though in Texas we called it Crack the Whip,” she said. It’s a game familiar to generations of children: a line of players join hands and run in a zig-zag motion, trying to “snap” the last person off of the line. “The main thing,” Dana said, “is that if you’re the second to last person in the chain, you don’t want the last person to fall off—because then you’re the one on the end!”

“I think Homer shows the motion and the movement of the game really well,” she continued. “He shows every part—the running, trying to hold on—and I can just see it happening.”

Though the print was published just after the Civil War ended, Dana was struck by the timelessness of the image. “I was playing the same game a hundred years later,” she said. “It could be happening outside right now.”

Dana was also interested by the absence of adults in the piece. “Maybe Homer didn’t put parents in the print because they didn’t have to be close—this is a fairly restrained game for the time, I guess.”

“Although today,” she added with a laugh, “their parents would probably make them wear a helmet.”

Dana Audia is events manager at the Clark. Originally from Amarillo, Texas, she completed her graduate work at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California and worked for many years in the hospitality industry. She started at the Clark in February after a stint working for the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

By John Boudreau, Communications Intern

No one knows quite why Homer decided to leave the United States to travel abroad in 1881. It wasn’t the first time he had left New York City to focus on his painting, but it was the first time he had spent significant time in another country to paint. Perhaps, as Franklin Kelly, deputy director of the National Gallery, has said, Homer set out for England because “he had come to feel that there was too much similarity in the people and the towns of America…he was seeking something new.”[1]

Homer decided to settle in Cullercoats, a fishing village of about 2,000 people on England’s northeast coast. It was among this rugged nautical environment—perhaps not that far removed in spirit from the Maine coast where he would later settle—that Homer felt he could work best.

Winslow Homer, Perils of the Sea, 1888. Etching on vellum. The Clark, 1955.1482

Winslow Homer Perils of the Sea, 1888. Etching on vellum, plate 41 x 53 cm, sheet 50 x 59.7 cm. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1955.1482

In a way, his trip to Cullercoats may have marked a turning point in Homer’s career. His paintings of rugged seascapes and the stolid wives of fishermen, like in Perils of the Sea (1881), were themes that he would return to later in his career—take a look at Saco Bay (1896), which is set on Maine’s coast but features women dressed similarly to Cullercoats women. Even his fascination with depicting sea rescues might be partly influenced by his time in the small village, which was home to a volunteer life-saving brigade that helped the Coast Guard rescue sailors from shipwrecks.

Homer wasn’t the first artist to settle in Cullercoats. It had been a well-known location for British artists for a decade by the time he arrived, so there was already a community of other artists who were interested in recording similar subjects. The typically reserved Homer, however, seems to have kept mostly to himself.

Homer_Saco Bay

Winslow Homer, Saco Bay, 1896. Oil on canvas, 23 13/16 x 37 15/16 in. (60.5 x 96.4 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1955.5

According to the village’s website, Homer kept a room in the Hudleston Arms hotel (number 17), and a separate studio at 12 Bank Top. Unsurprisingly, Homer’s studio was a very private place. Accessible only through one small door and partially surrounded by a retaining wall, it would have been difficult for passers-by to peer in while he was working. Naturally, the studio and his room at the Hudleston Arms had commanding views of the harbor below.

Both Homer’s old studio and the Hudleston Arms have long since been demolished, but the legacy of Cullercoats as an artists’ haven is still very much intact. A permanent Cullercoats Art Trail was recently established along the coast, allowing visitors to retrace some of Homer’s steps, and locals can point out the settings of some of his paintings. The contributions of Homer and his fellow artists were also recently celebrated in an exhibition at the Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths & Museum in the nearby town of Wallsend, proving that although he stayed only eighteen months, Homer affected Cullercoats just as much as Cullercoats affected him.


[1] Franklin Kelly, “A Process of Change” in Winslow Homer, eds. Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr and Franklin Kelly, (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1995), 173.

By John Boudreau, Communications Intern

Homer_The Bridle Path

Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910), The Bridle Path, White Mountains 1868. Oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 38 in. (61.3 x 96.5 cm). The Clark, 1955.2

One of the great things about visiting Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History is that everyone who looks at Homer’s paintings will react to them in a different way. They evoke different emotions, stories, and sentiments from every viewer. With Your Favorite Homer, we’ll ask some of the Clark’s employees to share their reactions to their favorite work of art in the exhibit.

Caedy Shultz-Loomis, The Bridle Path, White Mountains (1868)

It was perhaps inevitable that Caedy, who has been riding horses since she was a child, would select this Homer as her favorite. “I was just naturally drawn to this painting,” she said. “I like that he’s depicted the girl and her horse alone, making that the focal point of the painting.” In Caedy’s interpretation, Homer’s compositional choice may have some symbolic weight as well. “Riding can be a very solitary kind of activity, and it can be very much about just you and the horse and the experience that you’re sharing at that moment. She looks very relaxed and free, and that’s one of the things I love about riding. You feel like you’re removed from everything else around you.”

Caedy also appreciated the artist’s attention to detail—in this case, a sprig of vegetation caught in the horse’s bridle. “That’s cool,” she said. “I can think of all the times I’ve been riding in the woods and you duck down under a tree, but the horse just kind of goes along and gets something stuck in his bridle. That shows me that maybe Homer was a rider himself—he gets it.”

Caedy Shultz-Loomis is the Membership and Events Coordinator at the Clark. Originally from Bennington, Vermont, she attended school at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Upon graduating, she knew she was interested in a career in the arts, and in 2004, joined the staff of the Clark.

 

By John Boudreau, Communications Intern

This summer, the Clark’s blog will feature a variety of posts featuring our two new exhibitions, Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History, and George Inness: Gifts from Frank and Katherine Martucci. We’ll ask staff members to pick their favorite paintings and fill you in on some lesser-known stories behind the artists and their art. Today, we’re focusing on Harper’s Weekly, a newspaper that published scores of Winslow Homer’s illustrations early in his career.

The well-informed citizen in nineteenth-century America would rarely have been caught without a copy of Harper’s Weekly, for which Winslow Homer regularly provided illustrations throughout the Civil War. For the average reader, a publication like Harper’s was indispensable—akin to a modern-day Craigslist, Huffington Post, and Tumblr rolled into one.

Image

After Winslow Homer, The War–Making Havelocks for the Volunteers publ. in Harper’s Weekly 29 June 1861. Wood engraving on newsprint, Sheet 40.6 cm x 28.4 cm. The Clark, 1955.1496

In the pre-television era, newspapers like Harper’s Weekly were not only the most reliable source of information, but virtually the only source of information. Interestingly, the New York-based paper circulated in both the Union and in the Confederacy throughout the Civil War.

Harper’s wide circulation meant that a cover illustration was not only prestigious, but also a good advertisement for the artist himself, something the shrewd Homer would have no doubt appreciated. Cover illustrations like The War—Making Havelocks for the Volunteers, which Homer made for the June 29, 1861 edition of the magazine, have Homer’s name prominently displayed in the lower right-hand corner of the print, broadcasting the artist’s talent to anyone who glanced at the cover. In a time before widespread photography, Homer was the equivalent of the photojournalist of his day.

Inside this edition of the magazine, the two-month-old Civil War was the focus of most of the news. An item entitled “Evacuation of Harper’s Ferry” discussed the recent retreat of a garrison of soldiers to Manassas Junction, Virginia, “where no doubt a grand stand will be made.” The  first battle of Manassas (also known as the First Battle of  Bull Run) would happen a month later. A poem entitled “Thirteen and Thirty-Four” offered some patriotic encouragement to Union soldiers: “Strike for the 34! Country and Home restore!” (There were thirty-four states in the Union when the war broke out in 1861.)

Harper’s didn’t limit itself to war coverage. This issue also contained humor columns, international news, and less patriotic poetry, as well as a range of advertisements. Not bad for a paper that cost six cents.

Speaking of newspapers, The Clark has brought them back to downtown Williamstown as of today. EXTRA!, located at 73 Spring Street in Williamstown, sells a variety of national and international news media in a laid-back and comfortable community atmosphere—equal parts reading room and newsstand. While there won’t be anything available for six cents, it can’t hurt to stop by and take a look!

Also, for those wondering what a havelock is, it’s a piece of cloth attached to the back of a soldier’s hat that protects the neck from the sun. Who knew?

1962.138Landscapes and Interiors: The Two Sisters-in-law
By Laurel Garber, curatorial assistant

In this color lithograph by Édouard Vuillard (French, 1868-1940), two women lean against a table with their faces hidden from view. The woman on the left, Misia Natanson – the wife of one of Vuillard’s most important patrons – is shown in intimate conversation with her sister-in-law, Marthe Mellot. This print is one in a series of thirteen lithographs (twelve plates and one cover sheet) titled Paysages et Intérieurs, which Vuillard printed in 1899 with help from the skilled color printer, Auguste Clot. Clot assisted with the intricacies of color lithography, a printing process based on the principle that water and oil repel each other.

To make a lithograph, an artist draws with an oil-based material (such as a greasy crayon or liquid tusche) on a slab of limestone or metal plate. The stone is then chemically treated with a series of solutions that secure the drawing and fix it to the stone’s surface. After these treatments are erased with turpentine or paint thinner, the stone is moistened with water, which settles on the surface everywhere except on the oil-based drawing. A greasy printing ink is then applied with a roller, adhering to the design and resisting the dampened blank areas of the stone’s surface. A sheet of paper is then pushed against the inked drawing through a lithographic press, which applies pressure evenly. Generally, each color requires its own stone. For a print like Vuillard’s, the same sheet of paper is pressed on multiple stones in order to develop a colorful composition.

This print is composed of four colors: yellow, green, red, and black, which were printed on the paper in that order. The effect of this process in the final print is striking. Through a masterful exercise of lithographic technique, Vuillard and Clot overlapped and superimposed colors to create a seamless surface in which background and foreground merge and the figures in the print become little more than extensions of Vuillard’s experimentation with color and pattern. Likewise, any sense of line is minimized as the figures and objects are instead defined by the layering and interaction of colors. Marthe Mellot appears essentially as a silhouette – her figure composed of a dense field of black ink, almost indistinguishable from the table on which she leans. This image, in which planes that typically define depth and distinctions like front and back are flattened, provides an interesting contrast to many of the other works presented in Backstories.

Backstories Confronted

Rodin2By Camran Mani
Curator, Backstories

For a long time, the process of creating Backstories was all about projection. I did my best to predict what the installation would look like by using a dollhouse-sized model of the gallery and, later, by working with life-sized models in the actual gallery. But when the works of art themselves took their places in the installation, it became clear that they wouldn’t just make the points I wanted them to make; they have a life of their own (thank goodness), and they say things to each other I couldn’t have predicted. Discovering these surprises has been, for me, one of the most exciting parts of being involved with this show. Let me point out a couple examples.

Early on, I knew I wanted to put Winslow Homer’s The Dinner Horn alongside St. Michael Fighting the Dragon, a woodcut from Albrecht Dürer’s Apocalypse series. Both works have versos printed with text, making it clear that they come from literary contexts (a magazine in one case, a book in the other). I thought, “The dates of these works are more than three centuries apart; it will be striking to reveal that the treatment of the verso has been consistent over such a long period of time.” But, faced with the actual works, I was equally struck by an inconsistency.

The Dürer features a typeface that is visually akin to the image on the front. This suggests the artist coordinated his efforts with those of the typographer. The typeface on the Homer, however, has a severe, mechanical quality that is alien to the (hand-drawn) image. This announces that it was produced under more modern conditions: the artist and the typographer seem to have worked independently on their contributions to the magazine, almost like people on an assembly line. I take away from this “announcement” a heightened sense that Homer’s modernity, relative to his predecessors, is not simply a matter of imagery or style; it is also rooted in the way he relates recto to verso.

The Rodin Man with a Broken Nose also caught me by surprise. I knew, of course, that the head is incomplete. The back part is broken off so viewers can see the sculpture’s hollow interior. I also knew that the sculpture is supposed to be an early example of Rodin’s interest in the aesthetics of fragments, such as Greek and Roman sculptures ravaged by time. But I don’t think I appreciated the strangeness of the sculpture until I was able to consider the back from head on, both at a distance and up close, as one can in this installation. The break doesn’t evoke the “natural” fragmentation of Greek and Roman sculptures. It’s too clean. Also, the break calls our attention to an attribute that appears all along the break: a headband or fillet, such as those that appear in ancient sculptures of victorious athletes.

A number of questions follow from these observations (at least if we assume the break was deliberate). Why would Rodin welcome an allusion to antique sculptures of athletes but not an allusion to antique fragmentation? Why would he evoke ancient sculpture at all when his motif—a day laborer with a broken nose—seems designed to flout the canon of good taste that ancient sculpture embodied? Furthermore, should we understand the smoothness of the break to imply that the back of the sculpture belongs against a wall, or did Rodin want viewers to see that the sculpture was hollow? What would have been at stake in acknowledging this hollowness?

I don’t know if anyone else will be surprised or perplexed by these sorts of things, but I would like other visitors to be surprised and perplexed, too. My hope is that the questions Backstories raises will contain the seeds of future projects shedding even more light on the “hidden” sides of art.

Harpers1955.4486By Michael Cassin
Director, Center for Education in the Visual Arts

An image labeled The Dinner Horn appears on Page 377 of Harper’s Weekly, dated June 11th, 1870, printed from a drawing by Winslow Homer. The picture is a kind of rural idyll of nineteenth-century, post-Civil War America: a young woman blows her horn to let the people working in the distant fields know it’s time to eat. Ivy grows around the farmhouse door, and a contented-looking cat scratches itself against the door jamb; you can almost hear it purring with delight. A large cooking-pot hangs over the fire in the kitchen grate, steam rising from its contents, and the table is laid with neat place settings. The people who live here may not be rich; their food may be simple and they may have to work hard for what they receive, but the war is over. Their lives have returned to normal after its upheavals, and the farm laborers can look forward in safety to a hearty meal at the end of a working day. If we turn the page, however, we will encounter a story of a very different kind.

Most of this page is printed with text from the beginning of chapter forty-six of a novel called Man and Wife, by the English writer Wilkie Collins. Collins worked with Charles Dickens during the 1850s and ’60s, contributing chapters of what were called at the time “sensation” novels, for serial publication in Dickens’s journals Household Words and All the Year Round. This episodic format lent itself to scenes of high melodrama, with a cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter to keep readers on the edges of their seats, eagerly awaiting the next exciting installment. The son of a professional painter, Collins was highly adept at telling a good yarn in graphic prose. Novels like The Woman in White and The Moonstone are among the earliest examples of the classic mystery, with fantastic descriptions (a ghostly female appearing out of the darkness on a quiet Hampstead street; an unbalanced maidservant who drowns herself in a stretch of quicksand ominously called “the shivering sands”—you get the general idea), and with astute investigators who predate Sherlock Holmes by about 20 years.

But—like Dickens—Collins also wrote about current social issues, often choosing legal anomalies with which to prick the conscience of his Victorian readers. My favorite of Collins’s novels, No Name, revolves around the plight of two genteelly brought-up young women who discover, after their parents’ tragic and unexpected deaths, that they had not in fact been married at the time of their daughters’ births. This leaves the girls not only alone in the world, but without legal status, unable to inherit their parents’ possessions and, through no fault of their own, literally with no name.

Man and Wife, though not perhaps as gripping as some of Collins’s earlier tales, challenges the inconsistency, the inequity, and the iniquity of the marriage laws in different parts of Victorian Britain. Chapter forty-six brings many of the novel’s protagonists together in a chilly formal room in London to present arguments and evidence to determine the legality of a betrothal and a marriage. The text drops us into the middle of a convoluted plot. Unfortunately—and tantalizingly—we know neither the story so far nor what happens next. The text ends not just in mid-chapter, it ends in mid-question: “From the moment when you entered the inn to the moment when you left it, were you also…”??? How’s THAT for a cliff-hanger? Presumably, the rest of the question and its answer would appear on subsequent pages, but we don’t have any other pages. Oh, the suspense…

Well, I could tell you what happens next, but where’s the fun in that?  Maybe seeing this ‘midstory’ in the Backstories exhibition will encourage some of you to look up Man and Wife and Collins’s other novels in your local library or bookstore. Many of them are as intriguing as the backstories revealed in the show.

Hi everyone! Just about two weeks ago, my exhibition, “Giselle’s Remix,” opened at the Clark! Since that was my first time seeing my exhibit in real life, it was very exciting! When I walked upstairs to see it, I was amazed at how well the Clark had put it together. Everything was right where I wanted it to be, and the room looked fantastic! The blue wall color was so nice, and the paintings looked really good together. The whole day was wonderful, and the Clark uCurate team let me do so many things I never dreamed about doing, like talking to the press and speaking on a panel. I loved getting interviewed for newspapers, and my talk in the auditorium was so much fun! Seeing the billboards advertising the exhibit on our drive up was just as exciting!

Getting feedback from everyone at the opening was really helpful, and it put me in an even better mood than I was in before. Watching people look at my exhibit made me feel amazing, and when people came up to me, I was so happy. It made me realize that everyone interprets the paintings and the pieces I selected in their own ways. One woman, for example, came up to me and said, “I love all of the French art that you put in your exhibit, because I love French art, too.” I guess I do like French art, but I certainly never thought about my exhibit that way!

I can’t wait to bring my friends to Williamstown to see the exhibit over winter break. I hope that they’ll like it and maybe even “curate” a room of their own during the visit.

Giselle

Ready, Set, Giselle!

Ads for Giselle’s Remix appeared in the Boston Globe and New York Times … billboards will begin later this month

The Clark is preparing to open Giselle’s Remix, the first exhibition we will install based on a submission to our uCurate interactive program (check it out at clarkart.edu/remix). The first exhibition was created by 11-year-old Giselle Ciulla, who shared the post below as she anticipates the transformation of her exhibition from virtual to actual. As part of her work as a Clark curator, Giselle has worked closely with our marketing team as they’ve developed a campaign to promote the show. Recent ads in the Boston Globe and New York Times launched the marketing effort, which will soon be supplemented with billboards throughout the Berkshires region. Not surprisingly, Giselle has some thoughts on the media efforts.

Hi everyone! This week has been a tough one, because I live right outside of New York City, which got very hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. My town lost power and some houses, but not most, flooded. The wind was crazy, and the morning after the storm hit, there were so many trees and power lines down! It has been a long week, because all school was cancelled, my power was out, and the lack of gas means it’s hard for us to drive places.

But before this huge storm hit my town, I was home with my grandparents who were watching us for the week. They had brought the ad from the Boston Globe that had my picture in it, and showed it to my friends who were over. They started screaming with me and they all called their parents who asked to talk to me. I was so happy and embarrassed by them, because they went walking down the street singing, “My best friend’s a celebrity! She’s in the newspaper and is going to be on a billboard!”

I was so excited at that point, and whenever the ad catches my eye now, my heart starts pounding and I get so anxious. I can’t wait until the exhibit opens!

Giselle

By Tad Bennicoff (Assistant Archivist, Smithsonian Institution Archives.)
This post originally appeared in “The Bigger Picture,” the official blog of the Smithsonian Institution Archives, and is excerpted on this site.

Similar to a good book, a photograph tells a story; moreover, a photograph forever captures a particular moment in time, and conveys that moment to all who view it.

The Arthur de Carle Sowerby Papers, 1904-1954 and undated, include stunning photographs taken by Sowerby during his career as a naturalist, explorer, artist, and editor. The son of a British missionary to China, Arthur de Carle Sowerby (8 July 1885-16 August 1954) was born in Tai-yuan Fu, Shansi province. In 1908, Sowerby was invited by Robert Stirling Clark, (adventurer, art collector, and heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune) to serve as naturalist during Clark’s 1908 scientific expedition into Shansi and Kansu provinces of north China.

The expedition, which lasted more than a year and produced the first known map of the region, is recounted in Through Shên-kan : The Account of the Clark Expedition in North China, 1908-9, by Robert Sterling Clark and Arthur de C. Sowerby, ed. by Major C. H. Chepmell. This volume may be reviewed online through the digital collections of The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. The images from the Clark Expedition include landscapes, staged portraits, and impromptu local scenes. It is the latter which I find most intriguing, as such images document the people of a particular area merely going about their lives. There is, for instance, an image of a man spinning silk, perhaps his occupation, perhaps a hobby.

Spinning silk at Sanyuan, Shaanxi, by Arthur de Carle Sowerby, Record Unit 7263, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image #2008-3003

One of my personal favorites is an image of men pulling rickshaws through the streets in what appears to be a competitive manner.

Chinese men pulling rickshaws down the street, by Arthur de Carle Sowerby, Record Unit 7263, Smithsonian Institution Archive, Image # 2008-2938

There is also an image of a street food vendor, a common site evident in many towns and cities still, and a testament that although many years may pass, some things remain unchanged.

The introduction of the digital camera and its incorporation into smart phones, tablets, and laptops permit us to freeze time almost without thought. Such technology is remarkable, as it permits us to click away without the limit of numbered frames on a roll of film. Our digital devices are, in most cases, lightweight, discreet, and require little in the way of formal training to operate; simply point and shoot. I wonder what future generations will think of our moments, frozen, somewhere, on a cloud.

One final item of note, in 2009, Li Ju, a Chinese freelance photographer, retraced the path of the Clark Expedition to mark its centennial. Using original images from the expedition as a guide, Li Ju digitally photographed many of the sites visited by Clark and Sowerby in 1908-1909. The resulting images may be viewed in Through Shen-Kan: Revisiting Loess Plateau, China Intercontinental Press, 2012, a truly beautiful book in which original images from the Clark Expedition are displayed adjacent to the modern images Li Ju captured during his journey. These contrasting images are striking, for they show the changes that have occurred across a century, as well as the resilience of the landscape and the people who inhabit the region. The volume serves as an intriguing view into the past, through modern eyes.

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