Winslow Homer, American Artist: His World and His Work

By Albert Ten Eyck Gardner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
PROPOSING A NEW VIEW OF HOMER

"No man can quite emancipate himself from his age and country, or produce a model in which the education, the religion, the politics, usages and arts of his time shall have no share. Though he were never so original, never so wilfull and fantastic, he cannot wipe out of his work every trace of the thoughts amidst which it grew... Above his will and out of his sight he is necessitated by the air he breathes and the idea on which he and his contemporaries live and toil, to share the manner of his times."

EMERSON Art

THIS BOOK is not an attempt to produce a new standard Life of the artist -- a task so admirably performed by Lloyd Goodrich. It is an attempt to see Homer's work and his life from a somewhat different, perhaps a broader, point of view than the one a biographer may find himself confined to by necessity or convention. This is an attempt to see Homer and his wonderful pictures in close relation to his time, and to trace in his work the significant and formative effect upon it of the modern art enthusiasms and influences of that time. For these were the influences that Homer selected, adapted, and fused with his great natural talents and his inborn taste into his own individual style. A style consciously developed, perfectly organized, and enlivened by his unique personality -- and by this personal distinction, this native talent, this natural taste, his work comes ultimately tuned up to the unmistakable note of genius.

Though Homer's career spans almost exactly the years of Queen Victoria's era, it somehow is not quite possible to think of him as an old-fashioned artist. He is not one of those painters of the nineteenth century whose works were long forgotten and only recently resurrected; revalued perhaps more for their gentle charm and their reminders of the quaint rusticities of a bygone day than for any really superior artistic qualities to be found in them. Winslow Homer is definitely not a painter of this class. He was, and in some mysterious way he remains, a perennially vital modern artist in exactly the same way that some of his French contemporaries remain lively and apparently ageless. Homer seems to win the same kind of active appreciation that is accorded to Manet, Monet, and Degas, Cézanne and Renoir. It is indeed curious that, although the subject matter of their pictures may perhaps appear old-fashioned or be dated by details of costume or topography, the spirit of these men, their approach, their attitude of mind, their range and perception, is not outmoded; their feelings and ideas are immediately communicated to us without our making any allowances for their age. Very few American artists of the nineteenth century have been able to achieve this remarkable, this enviable, estate; in fact Winsow Homer may perchance stand almost alone in his possession of this unusual power through the force and originality of his personality. For it is in large part the

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