Winslow Homer, American Artist: His World and His Work

By Albert Ten Eyck Gardner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
HOMER'S WORLD: FRIENDS AND STRANGERS, THE GENERATION OF 1830

"All pictures have something ridiculous about them which comes from fashion . . . the less there is in pictures of the transitory element which most often contributes to present-day success, the more they fulfill the conditions of permanence and of greatness . . ."

The JOURNAL OF EUGÈNE DELACROIX, JUNE 25, 1847.

THOUGH Homer had his friends among the artists of his own generation, he was not, after his first years in New York, very intimate with any of them. Throughout his life he retained his friendship with the Boston boys who had been his fellow apprentices at Bufford's -- Joseph Baker and J. Foxcroft Cole. Another friend of his Boston days was the painter Albert Kelsey, who, with Cole, guided Homer around Paris in 1867.

When Homer had first come to New York as a young man in 1859, he had gradually become acquainted with a number of other young artists and book illustrators and he soon found friends among them. When he took a studio in the old New York University Building on Washington Square in 1861, he met a whole group of artists who were installed there as tenants. In 1866, when he was interviewed by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, there were at least nine men with studios in the building. All of these artists except Eastman Johnson are now rather obscure, if not completely forgotten, and their principal interest and value to us here are to provide an atmosphere, a background, a circle of companions for Homer before he withdrew from contacts and friendships in the art world of New York. It is interesting to note that many of these artists who inhabited the New York University Building were men of about the same age as Homer, a good proportion of them were also New Englanders, and a majority of them earned their livings as illustrators of books and magazines.

The University Building seems always to have attracted artist tenants ( Samuel Morse had a studio there in the 1830's). There must have been a friendly informality about the place, but most likely artists gathered there because the rents were low and the light was good. But there were also other attractions; the green open space of the park before the building, and the National Academy of Design was then nearby with its school and its annual exhibitions in which all young artists hoped to show their works. The Düsseldorf Gallery was then on Broadway, not far off, and there were in the neighborhood many small foreign restaurants where simple, inexpensive dinners could be bought.

Homer's neighbors and friends listed by Aldrich are a sort of cross section of the New York art world when Homer was first a part of it. It is interesting to note here that Eastman Johnson was, like Homer, a former apprentice to Bufford, the Boston lithographer. The oldest man in the group was Alexander Jackson Davis ( 1803-92), who was an architect, architectural draftsman, and lithographer.

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