Untitled Document

Artist Biography

 Winslow Homer is known to have made two extended visits to Gloucester Harbor in 1873 and 1880. Despite being only seven years apart, the results of the two stays reflect the stylistic change the artist had undergone. In 1873 Homer was still a genre artist, often employed as an engraver, evident in his simple but direct approach. By 1880, Homer had left engraving, and was becoming more removed both socially and artistically. The first evidence of Homer’s aloofness was his choice of accommodations in Gloucester; instead of a comfortable room in the Atlantic House, Homer opted for the seclusion of Ten Pound Island, where he was a guest in the lighthouse. In any case, Homer was entering his mature phase as an artist, and the monumental works for which he is best remembered were about to be created.


From this vantage point on Ten Pound Island, Homer could observe the full choreography of the sailing vessels entering and leaving the harbor with none of the distractions that might have occurred on the landward side. Images of boys sailing around the harbor reappear, but this time they are merely an objective part of the overall picture instead of the subjective main subject. The dominant theme from this trip focused on light and atmosphere. Boats however, remained a fascination and Gloucester Harbor was the perfect place for studying them under variable light and atmosphere. The image here is of a single masted sloop by a wharf, executed in a format inspired by popular Japanese woodblock prints. The simplified composition and arrangement transmits a sense of spontaneity through his use of cropped forms and strong diagonals against a flat background of water, landscape and sky. Despite appearing still, the taught diagonal lines of the sailboat stays imply a coiled strength waiting to be released.


The summer of 1880 was extraordinarily productive for Homer, creating more than one hundred and twenty five works from the Gloucester stay alone. When finally exhibited, first in Boston then New York, the reaction by critics initially was mixed, as many failed to understand Homer’s mastery of a diverse group of influences. After a time, critics and patrons began to appreciate Homer’s new subtlety and command of the watercolor medium. Art Historians often cite the year of 1880 as signaling Homer’s true emergence as an American master.