Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Peek under the Paint of Homer's Work

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Peek under the Paint of Homer's Work

Article excerpt

You can almost taste the salt spray. It is a sea-air image of wonderful buoyancy, exhilaration, and compelling forward movement. It also may have been intended as a symbol of national promise.

Winslow Homer's abidingly popular painting was first exhibited in 1876 in New York, the same year that the American Centennial was being celebrated in the form of a fair in Philadelphia. Homer's title was "A Fair Wind." "Breezing Up" was added later. It was being used by 1879, evidently with the artist's approval.

Contrary to its appearance of immediate realization in oil paint, this painting took the artist some two or three years to complete. Art history quite often records paintings that look remarkably spontaneous but, in reality, took the painter a long time to finish - time in which struggles, doubts, and changes of mind occurred. Cezanne was notoriously, demandingly, slow.

When De Kooning was painting his iconic "Woman I," according to his biographers Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, he paced the floor of his studio "studying the image for long periods and then striding purposely forward with the brush, searching for the startlingly fresh image that would have the exclamatory 'of course' of an image painted in one quick surge of inspiration."

Matisse, whose works might seem, to viewers, to have arisen straight out of his head with an instantaneous simplicity, sometimes went through lengthy periods of anguish. When he painted his wife's portrait in 1913, they had to undergo more than 100 sittings.

Matisse's friend Marcel Sembat indicates the difficulties when he recorded in his diary a Saturday visit with Matisse during this time: "Crazy! weeping! By night he recites the Lord's Prayer! By day he quarrels with his wife!" Yet the final portrait is peculiarly tranquil.

Homer's painting likewise had to look unlabored, or the very spirit of the thing would have been compromised. Yet both infrared reflectogram investigation, and even to a degree the naked eye, show how the artist reconsidered several elements of the picture. At one stage, there had been two other boats in full sail in the distance. In the end, there was only one. …

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