Arts Everyday Living: Winslow Homer–Creative Comparisons–From the Beach to Eternal Sea


A decade can be a creative lifetime for a master like Winslow Homer, a leading figure of American art. So let’s compare two works of art from his long career to better understand the diversity and depth of Homer’s unique vision.


Winslow Homer, Boys Wading, 1873, watercolor and gouache over graphite on wove paper, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Title: Boys Wading

Artist: American Winslow Homer (1836-1910) 

ONE SUMMER IN GLOUCESTER: New Englander Winslow Homer, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was in his late thirties in 1873 when he decided to travel to the seaport town of Gloucester in his native state. Homer had begun as an illustrator for the magazine Harper’s Weekly, including a period as a correspondent in Virginia during the Civil War. Yet, he also eventually established a reputation as a fine artist, maintaining a studio in New York City.

Primarily self-taught, Homer was drawn to watercolor, a medium growing in popularity.*  Children too became a favorite theme in a nation trying to forget the carnage of a too recent war. Was Homer himself also attempting to replace his own memories of  the encampments and battlefields of Virginia with positive scenes like the one depicted in Boys Wading?

A portrait of companionship—friends positioned side by side–focused intently on the same goal. Can we, the viewers, determine what it is that attracts their attention? Are they looking for fish or some other type of sea creature or ocean life?  Absorbed in the world of nature–surrounded by the luminous blue tones of coastal water, its reflections shimmering in the rays of summer light.

*Homer’s mother was an acknowledged watercolorist

Winslow Homer, Incoming Tide, Scarboro, Maine, 1883, watercolor on wove paper, Gift of Ruth K. Henschel in memory of her husband Charles R. Henschel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Title: Incoming Tide, Scarboro, Maine

Artist: American Winslow Homer (1836-1910)

PROUTS NECK, SYMBOL OF THE ETERNAL SEA: During the intervening years, between 1873 and 1883, the date of Incoming Tide, Scarboro, Maine, Homer had increasingly been inspired as well as challenged by the power of the sea–its many moods and daily transformations. Part of this artistic journey included his time spent working on Ten Pound Island, near Gloucester, during the summer of 1880, and later, from 1881- 1882, in the fishing village of Cullercoats on the North Sea in England.

Ultimately, he settled in Prouts Neck in 1883, a rocky peninsula in Scarborough, not far from Portland, Maine. His studio would be a converted carriage house, next door to the family home of his parents and siblings. The work above is just one of the numerous views done at Prouts Neck, a classic example of the primeval struggle between the land and the ocean—that dramatic moment when the whitish cap of a looming wave is about to hurl itself upon the waiting shore. Reinforced by the overall composition, the tension created by the rightward movement of the incoming tide against the  opposite diagonal pull of the rugged rocks.

GOOGLING HOMER: If you would like to experience more of Homer’s seascapes, try googling the following:

Sunlight on the Coast, 1890, Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio

High Cliff, Coast of Maine, 1894, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Cannon Rock, 1895, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

West Point, Prouts Neck, 1900, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts

Eastern Point, 1900, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts




In the public domain, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art does not endorse or approve use of the above image or any of the material on this website. Nor has the National Gallery of Art participated in any projects utilizing the said image.

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