Many beaches have been emptied of tourists and holidaymakers as the coronavirus epidemic drags on. No worries. Winslow Homer (1836–1910), the noted American painter best known for his marine subjects, can transport beach lovers beyond the boundaries of time and space. The following works by Homer may not substitute for the sand and sea, but they can help those who miss the beach relive the days that now seem so distant.

Learn more about the life and works of Winslow Homer from these two monographs (click the titles to download the files):

An Eye for Art: Winslow Homer

Winslow Homer and the Poetics of Place

 

East Hampton Beach, Long Island, 1874
Winslow Homer (1836–1910)
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

After covering the American Civil War (1861–1865) as illustrator for Harper’s Weekly, Winslow Homer turned to the depiction of fashionable young women. This oil painting of women enjoying a sunny day at the beach is remarkable for its superb composition and cerebral use of colour. By putting in just the right amount of details, Homer conveys a pleasant, laid-back atmosphere.

Left (top)The Bathers, 1873; Right (bottom)On the Bluff at Long Branch, at the Bathing Hour, from Harper’s Weekly, August 6, 1870
Winslow Homer (1836–1910)
Images courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Homer’s drawings and paintings of beach scenes are significant not only because of their artistic value. They also open a window to a bygone era even as they remind us of the unfading joy of days spent on the beach.

Eagle Head, Manchester, Massachusetts (High Tide), 1870
Winslow Homer (1836–1910)
Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

There is an air of mystery and a strong narative element in ‘Eagle Head, Manchester, Massachusetts (High Tide). The three women are grouped together in an imaginary circle, as it were. They apparently know each other, but they strike different poses as they face outward from the centre of the circle. Two of them are wearing running shoes, but the girl on the left is soaking wet. Did she stand too close to the water when the tide rushed in? To add to the painting’s enigmatic appeal, a dog looks curiously but warily at the three figures.

A Basket of Clams, 1873
Winslow Homer (1836–1910)
Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

‘A Basket of Clams’ provides ample proof of Winslow Homer’s standing as a master watercolourist. His delicate handling of the medium to produce glints of sunlight gives this work a certain rustic charm.

Seaside Sketches – A Clam-Bake, 1873
Winslow Homer (1836–1910)
Image courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Winslow Homer chose a rocky beach instead of a sandy shore as the setting for ‘Seaside Sketches – A Clam-Bake’. If this was an artistic gambit, it paid off very well indeed. The variously sized rocks add a rich texture to the drawing, which contrasts with the plainness of the sea and sky in the background. Homer’s eye for detail is unmistakable.

A Fisher Girl on Beach (Sketch for Illustration of “The Incoming Tide”), 1876
Winslow Homer (1836–1910)
Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Winslow Homer’s sketch of a fisher girl walking along the beach shows his great empathy with fisherfolk as well as understanding  of human nature in general. The young woman has her head turned towards the boat, perhaps waiting for the fisherman to unload his catch. Like the stylishly dressed women Homer loved to paint, she exudes grace and confidence, although one detects a bit of haughtiness in her posture.

The Watcher, Tynemouth, 1882
Winslow Homer (1836–1910)
Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

It’s a hard life for fisherfolk. Winslow Homer sums it all up in ‘The Watcher, Tynemouth’ — one of many art pieces he made during his stay (1881–1882) in the English fishing village of Cullercoats near the city of Tynemouth. The white foam of the roaring waves serves to frame the woman in drab clothing. At the same time, it acts as a counterpoint to the gloom that permeates Homer’s watercolour opus.

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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