Monday, February 24, 2014

Winslow Homer's Gentle Push


Winslow Homer, The Trapper, oil on canvas, 19 x 29 1/2", 1870,
Colby College Museum of Art. This oil likely served as a 
preparatory canvas for the larger oil below.




Winslow Homer, An Adirondack Lake, oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 36 1/4", 
1870, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle.





Cover of exhibition catalogue for the 1970 show The American Scene 
featuringa detail from the Henry Art Gallery's version of Homer's painting. 


Today is Winslow Homer's birthday (Am. 1836 - 1910). I was reminded of this by the Colby College Museum of Art's Facebook post wishing that old master of American Realism the best this afternoon. Accompanying their good wishes was the painting at the top, The Trapper, from their Collection that Homer painted in 1870.  It probably served as a preparation for a larger work Homer painted expanding on the subject that's now in the Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle. (I had the good fortune to tour the impressive and recently expanded Colby Museum last summer and got to see The Trapper in the flesh).

Way back in 1970 I graduated as a studio art major from Oberlin College in Ohio, packed my odd collection of student paintings in a van and drove over to the adjoining state to spend the next two years in Bloomington at Indiana University in their MFA Painting Program. I arrived there passionate to do some serious painting with no real direction at all. I actually did a number of canvases of what I imagined the surfaces of undiscovered planets might look like (as it turned out, I had little idea myself and the paintings were pretty unconvincing).

The Indiana University Art Museum had a small bookshop. Browsing the stacks of books my eye was caught by the figure of a tall man holding an even taller paddle. I had stumbled upon the catalogue for a show that had concluded at the Museum only months before I had arrived- The American Scene 1820 - 1900 organized by Louis Hawes, an art historian at Indiana University in honor of the school's Sesquicentennial. Though I missed the show, the catalogue's 144 pages of black and white photographs of Hudson River School and American Impressionist paintings drew me in and held me. This was a branch of the art world I knew almost nothing about.

Here were images that seemed painted by artists who had fallen in love with their subjects. Their embrace of the natural world seemed so straight from the heart and utterly lacking in any ironic stance. Most of all, so many of the paintings reminded me ever so much of the wooded hillsides of northern Lake Ontario where I had lived from four until I was eighteen. Maybe I was a little homesick, but these paintings hit home in a way my surrealist inspired imaginary planet paintings never would. 

The worn cover of Hawes' exhibition catalogue should give you a clue I didn't let the book out of my sight for months. It gave me that last little shove needed to start me down the landscape painting path I've followed the last 42 years. Louis Hawes is gone now, perhaps joining Winslow Homer up in art heaven. To each of them I'd like to say a heartfelt thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Claude Monet 1856-57 landscape discovery http://www.wmgallery.com/masters

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