Winslow Homer

Winslow Homer, Fish and Butterflies, Watercolor, 1900

Winslow Homer

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, June 9 — Sept. 8, 2013

Robert Sterling Clark declared that Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910) was one of the greatest artists of the nineteenth century. After purchasing his first Homer painting in 1915, Clark began a passion that would last for decades and would become the greatest collection of works of Winslow Homer ever assembled by one person after the artist’s death—and one of the leading collections of any art museum in the United States..


Winslow Homer, ‘West Point Prouts Nedk" 1900, Oil on canvas

Winslow Homer, ‘West Point Prouts Neck” 1900, Oil on canvas


Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History showcases some sixty oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and etchings, as well as approximately 120 rarely seen wood engravings. Drawing upon the resources of the Clark’s own holdings of nearly 250 works by Homer (dating from 1857 to 1904), the exhibition provides a variety of distinctive perspectives on this important American artist.

The exhibition presents the full range of the Clark’s Homer collection, including works on paper that are rarely on view due to their light-sensitive nature. In addition to works from the Clark, a selection of loaned works is also presented.

The paintings in the Clark collection are recognized as being among Homer’s finest and offer insight into Homer’s thematic and technical development throughout his career. The presentation of Undertow (1886), along with six preparatory drawings accompanying it, gives an intimate look at the artist’s design process and offers insights into how Homer developed one of his most important figural works. .

The exhibition is complemented by the first complete documentation of the Clark’s Homer collection with the publication of Winslow Homer: The Clark Collection, a catalogue by Homer scholar and exhibition curator Marc Simpson.

About The Artist

Winslow_Homer_by_Sarony Winslow Homer, at the National Gallery of Art

Winslow_Homer_by_Sarony Winslow Homer, at the National Gallery of Art

Winslow Homer (1836–1910) was a primarily self-trained painter in oil and watercolor who, during his lifetime and since, has been lauded as among the most accomplished of American artists. He began his career making illustrations for weekly newspapers.

By the mid-1860s, he had gained renown for his oil paintings of Civil War subjects, such as Prisoners from the Front (1866; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and scenes of country life and leisure. He gave up illustration work in the mid-1870s and focused his attention on watercolor and other fine arts media.

After spending two years (1881–82) honing his craft and creating images of the fishing culture of the English village of Cullercoats, Homer returned to America and moved into a studio in Prout’s Neck, Maine. He turned increasingly to life on or at the edges of the sea for his oil paintings, and works such as Life Line (1884; Philadelphia Museum of Art) document his fascination with the often adversarial relationship between mankind and the ocean.

For both sport and inspiration, Homer traveled along the Atlantic seaboard, from Maine to Florida, and inland from the Adirondacks to the Laurentians. These travels are reflected in his work, especially in scenes of deer hunting and fishing. In his later paintings, the meeting of wave and rock at Prout’s Neck, in various conditions of light and weather, became the elemental subject that riveted his attention and on which his reputation has significantly depended.

Robert Sterling Clark admired Winslow Homer (1836-1910) more than any other American artist. In 1942, he asserted with confidence: “I put Winslow Homer as the greatest artist of ours.” Acting on this belief for forty years, from 1915 through 1955, he purchased Homer’s oil paintings, watercolors, and other works in such numbers that, in the end, he owned more works by Homer than by any other artist..


Homer began making watercolors professionally in 1873, prompted by the medium’s rising popularity. His works from that decade are often redolent of romance, but they counter easy sentimentality with their summary technique and a lack of clear narrative. During his stay in England (1881–82), Homer made many more watercolors than oils, winning critical and commercial success with them. Later in life, he painted watercolors while on his frequent travels, often using startling perspectives or color schemes that reflect both popular illustration and Japanese aesthetics at the same time as they reveal his increasingly unconventional way of responding to the world. Between 1873 and 1905 Homer made nearly seven hundred watercolors, transforming the medium and his artistic achievement as a whole.

“You will see,” he said, “in the future I will live by my watercolors.”

Clark purchased his first two Homer watercolors in 1917 and continued acquiring them into the 1950s, assembling an impressive collection of Homer’s work in the medium.

Perils Of The Sea

For most of 1881 and 1882, Homer lived in the English village of Cullercoats, near Tynemouth, on the North Sea. There, he concentrated on watercolors, depicting the working lives of the people in the fishing community. The painting Perils of the Sea portrays a group gathered at the Volunteer Life Brigade’s Watch House. Seven years after completing the watercolor, Homer made an etching after it, altering some of the details and retaining the natural reversal of a composition that takes place in the printing process. He included two remarques (the small images of an anchor and a sailor’s head) in the lower margin. Homer clearly felt that Perils of the Sea offered a theme to which a wide audience would respond. Sterling Clark achieved a collecting coup by acquiring both the watercolor and the etching and bringing the two versions together.


Winslow Homer,  "An October Day" Watercolor, 1889

Winslow Homer, “An October Day” Watercolor, 1889


More important than the size of his collection, however, was its quality. In its breadth and ambition, Clark’s collection became the finest gathering of Homer’s works put together by any person after the artist’s death. The extraordinary nature of the collection became clear to the outside world only when Clark opened his museum in Williamstown in May 1955. In the intervening half-century-plus, the museum has built on this strength, augmenting the original Homer collection through both purchase and gift, and has placed the Homer collection at the core of its exhibition practice and educational mission.


Winslow Homer, A Good Pool, Saguenay River, Watercolor, 1895

Winslow Homer, A Good Pool, Saguenay River, Watercolor, 1895


Winslow Homer: The Clark Collection (Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute) [Hardcover]

Mr. Marc Simpson (Author)

The exhibition is complemented by the first complete documentation of the Clark’s Homer collection with the publication of Winslow Homer: The Clark Collection, a catalogue by Homer scholar and exhibition curator Marc Simpson..

Winslow Homer, Clark Collection

Winslow Homer, Clark Collection

Winslow Homer (1836–1910) is one of the core figures of 19th-century American art. While most well-known for his oil paintings of Civil War scenes and the windswept Atlantic coastline, Homer’s oeuvre encompasses a variety of themes, ranging from childhood games through the life-and-death struggles of man and nature. The Clark Art Institute holds one of the greatest collections of Homer’s work across all media, including wood engravings, etchings, watercolors, drawings, and paintings from nearly all phases of his career. The collection was assembled predominately by Robert Sterling Clark (1877–1956), who purchased his first Winslow Homer painting in 1915, followed by Two Guides in 1916 and maintained a passion for the artist throughout the rest of his collecting career, acquiring the small oil Playing a Fish in 1955.

This book examines Robert Sterling Clark as a collector of Homer and the Clark’s extensive holdings of the artist. Over thirty entries discuss the role of individual works in Homer’s oeuvre and their larger significance to the art world. An illustrated checklist provides information on titles, dates, and media for the entire collection.

Other Viewpoints: Twentieth Century Watercolors

In the book, Twentieth Century Watercolors, Christopher Finch states: The greatest American watercolorist of that generation, and one whose art was at its prime in the early 1900’s, was Winslow Homer. An illustrator early in his career, Homer began to paint seriously in oils in his mid-twenties and in watercolors in his mid-thirties. The early watercolors, though charming, are not remarkable original, and it was not until 1881 and 1882, while the artist was in the English fishing village of Cullercoats, that he began to produce powerful work in the medium. Returning to America, he settled on the Maine coast. It was there, as well as on his travels to such places as the New York Adirondacks and the Caribbean, that he produced, over a period of almost three decades, scores of paintings that entitle him to be considered among the greatest watercolorists of any period.

Video Views From The Clark Collection

Winslow Homer, “West Point, Prout’s Neck,” oil, 1900



Winslow Homer, “An October Day” Watercolor, 1889




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