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Winslow Homer


Centurion, 1865–1910

Born 24 February 1836 in Boston, Massachusetts

Died 29 September 1910 in Scarborough, Maine

Buried Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Proposed by William Oliver Stone and Eastman Johnson

Elected 2 December 1865 at age twenty-nine

Seconder of:

Century Memorials

How can one characterize a nation, and what do the critics indicate when they call the art of Winslow Homer peculiarly American—for nothing could be more unlike our ordinary selves than was this man who loved solitude and secluded himself even from men of his own craft, and who was never so little alone as when alone? It is not the bustling, materialistic, dilettante American which was incarnate in him; perhaps he the better represented that which is essential.

Born in Boston the record of his life omits the items found in our common biographies; he was graduated from no college and indebted to no great teacher. Self-inspired he was self-taught, a statement scarcely modified by the fact that in 1859 he attended the night classes in the National Academy of Design in New York, working all day at his trade of lithographer to make two ends meet and to pay tuition fees. On the outbreak of the war he was sent by the Harpers to the front where he distinguished himself, attracting finally wide attention. He exhibited his first picture in 1863 and became an Academician in 1865. He studied in Paris in 1867 and exhibited in the Salon the same year and again in 1877, and frequently elsewhere. In 1866 he helped originate the Water Color Society. After these early successes he long secluded himself only at last to win the greater recognition. He thought figure pieces, particularly negro studies, his specialty, but his passion was the sea, its vastness, its mass, its motion, its life, its virility, its spirit responding to his soul. How then could his art be trifling, minute, delicate, effeminate, and do we not love to think its strength, massiveness, and confidence truly, immortally American?

George William Knox
1911 Century Association Yearbook

Homer was born in Boston in 1836, where his mother was a gifted amateur watercolorist and was his first teacher. Homer did not receive any formal art training, but began his art career as an apprentice for a commercial lithographer.

In the late 1850s he began creating line art drawings from photographs for Harper’s Weekly. At the time pictures were printed by “stamping” them from a large wood block. Some illustrations in Harper’s include his signature in the corner of the illustration; some were attributed to him by name in the caption, and others are believed to be his because of the distinct style of the drawing.

After the Civil War, Homer began a career as an artist, and painted several oils based on drawings he had done during the war. He went to France in 1867 and began painting landscapes, and by 1875 he stopped his work as a commercial lithographer, and focused on his painting. His 1872 painting Snap the Whip was very well received, and was displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

Homer came to watercolors at the age of 37, already a mature artist. “You will see, in the future I will live by my watercolors,” he once remarked. As Robert Hughes commented, “. . . he did more than any other nineteenth-century American artist to establish watercolor as an important medium in this country. In structure and intensity, his best watercolors yield nothing to his larger paintings.”

In the 1880s he moved to Maine and began painting scenes of the sea and coast. While his early work captured the horror of the Civil War, towards the end of his life his paintings reflected the peace and serenity of the Maine Coast. Homer died at his studio in 1910. His Prout’s Neck studio is now owned by the Portland Museum of Art.

James Charlton
“Centurions on Stamps,” Part I (Exhibition, 2010)