Homer Winslow And Jules Breton Essay, Research Paper
Homer Winslow and Jules Breton, two men painting the canvas of the nineteenth century. Comparing their art gives birth to numerous differences and unique qualities hidden within their work and lives. Dressing For The Carnival, Homer 1877, and The Weeders, Breton 1868, are fine examples of their careers as artists.
“Beyond the aesthetic merits of his work, Breton is significant as the painter whose vision of French rural life best embodies a set of late nineteenth- century ideals: the charm and wholesomeness of rustic ways, the nobility of living close to the soil, the beauty of preindustrial landscape, and the social harmony of the agrarian community.” ( Sturges)
Breton?s work was unique in content, painting for himself, impressing his personal values to the viewer. Although he did not fit the mold, by producing classical and historical works, there were other artists struggling with expression and values of a newer mind, artists like Winslow Homer.
“While he was at work in Petersburg, it became known to a group of fine young fire-eaters that he was consorting with the blacks, and they resolved to drive him out of town as a ?d-d nigger-painter.? Word had come to him that the place was to be made too hot for him, but he paid no attention to the warning.” ( Hendricks)
Both Breton and Homer were leaders for impressionism, however, the two works mentioned above vary greatly. Both artists focused on similar subject matter, figures in a scene or landscape. However a closer observation of specific images, narrative, symbols, sources, and process divide the two pieces to separate sides of late eighteen hundreds paintings. Physical elements such as composition, position of figures in space, brush work, color, viewpoint, and surface treatment all contribute to this separation of similar subject matter.
The composition of The Weeders is un cropped, fairly balanced and symmetrical. The foreground is bold, the middle ground is expansive and the back ground strong and deep. Our view is that of perhaps a weeder on the field. Homer?s Carnival is cropped and less symmetrical with figures emerging from off the canvas. Less emphasis is placed on use of foreground, in turn creating less depth. Breton?s figures hold much movement and expression, women working the field are crouched close to the viewer. Farther back a woman stands alone, basket full, gaze and body positioned toward the setting sun. The women weeding are bent and tired. Homer?s figures hold much more static energy, their gestures are held firmly with out a potential for further movement, like a snapshot. They are mimicking and playful with much variation of size, adults and various aged children. This is easily observed because of the placement of the figures all standing in a line, all the same distance from the viewer. The figure is the focus of the viewer, with the background less important. The figures feet almost meet the bottom of the canvas, out view eye level. This horizontal linear figure focus creates a flow and path of the viewers eye from right to left. The The Weeders flow moves from foreground figures to middle ground left and finally the expansive deep horizon. Front to back as opposed to side to side. Breton’s backward recession is also created using the crop lines in the dirt which carry us off into the distance.
Breton?s brush work is painterly and general compared to his classic roots, though his figures are quite detailed. The texture of the canvas can be seen because of his thin application of smooth layers of oil paint. Homer?s application and use of the brush is notably different. It is rougher, thicker, and much much more suggestive.
Both artists use of color plays an important role in the overall effect of the painting on the viewer. Breton?s color focuses on contrast, this has much to do with the time of day and setting of a field minutes away from night. The figures are softly silhouetted and lit by the intense setting of the sun. An unearthly peach fights to stick around, caressing the dark earthy greens and sensible cool browns. These natural cooler colors are also used on the figures showing their literal ties and connection to the land.
Homer?s use of color is much different. A larger palette, with more vibrant colors contrast a more natural background. The color is literally used in patches and sections giving the scene direct sunlight. Breton?s transitions are subtle and gentle. The bright foreground and neutral background are the opposite of Breton?s neutral foreground and bright horizon. These thoughtful choices of palette and its use show the sensitivity and complexness of the artists and intense power of color on a painting and it?s overall mood.
These technical aspects of painting contribute to the tone and expression received by the viewer. The flavor presented in The Weeders is calm, peaceful, the powerful beauty of the country. This is ironic though, looking at women so hard at work. But the end is in sight for the days labor, this is said through the tranquility of palette, a full basket, the setting sun, and the woman stretching her back next to a slivered low moon. “thus a plant overcome by the day?s dryness straightens up in the coolness of the evening.” (3 Breton) A moment caught as if you had just lifted your head to see your fellow workers silhouetted. “…Breton?s women seemed to be worshiping the sun, ?father of all fecundity?.” (4 Du Camp)
The mood of Homer?s Carnival is quite different. It is playful and childlike, warm weather and Fourth of July spirit. There is something familiar about the colors, like combined memory from every July as a child, but so much more is suggested to the viewer through symbolism.
There are many clues left for the viewer in Homer?s Carnival. Homer did studies of African American life in Petersburg, Virginia. A figure in the painting wears a harlequin outfit, in European theater this represents an outcast of society. A woman to his left is sewing clothing out of ceremonial African dress from the slave festival of Jonkonnu. After the civil war, aspects of Jonkonnu became part of the African American celebration of the Fourth of July. This painting actually documents the interweaving of cultural traditions after emancipation.
The Weeders too carries symbolism. There is recognition of the laboring class. Figures are large on the canvas, respectfully large, and the darkness on their backs suggests societies blindness to their lives and labors.
The subject matter and views expressed stem from a lifetime of influences. Background information is helpful in understanding these works.
Winslow Homer was born in 1836 in Boston. At the age of eight his family moved to Cambridge and he attended primary school. Winslow?s earliest documented work was done at the age of ten. It is a collection of three drawings now at Bowdoin College in Maine. “Surely young Winslow had done a lot of practicing. Obviously, he also had worked with his mother, who was far more than just another amateur painter of pretty pictures.” (2 ) His father went west to California to make his fortune in gold but returned empty handed. But he did come home to see that Winslow?s skills had grown considerably. His first professional work was in 1854 when he did a sheet-music cover, a lithograph for a Boston firm. This was the beginning of his career as an artist.
In 1875 Homer visited Virginia for the first time. This would inspire the sketch, made on a second visit two years later, for Dressing for the Carnival. “Much has been written about Homer?s trip – or trips- to Virginia. Most writers seem aware of the difficulties and slide over the matter.” (2) Though his work was well received by some, many people did not agree with his subject matter and message. This dialogue was relayed to an art literary magazine. ” ?Why don?t you paint our lovely girls instead of those dreadful creatures?? asked a First-Family belle when he was in Virginia, laying up studies for his picture. ?Because they are the purtiest,? he said,in his gruff, final way.” (2)
Jules Breton was born in 1827 to a wealthy family in Courrieres in northern France. At the age of four his mother died and he was placed under the care of nurses and some extended family. “His early childhood was carefree and joyous, and though much of his time was spent playing in the gardens and fields with companions of inferior social position, he was not raised as a peasant.” (1) This open-minded up bringing perhaps influenced his attitudes of lower class laborers expressed in his work. He received a fine education at a Catholic seminary school and attended college of Douai. It is here that he discovered his talent and passion for art. He later studied at the Royal Academy and was guided by artists like Vigne, Haert, and Rude. He also studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Soon the Revolution was an impact on his life. At twenty years old he witnessed much violence but did not have a passion for Politics. Running from this turmoil, he returned home and found comfort there. This began his works based in Courrieres.
Homer and Breton came from different backgrounds and financial situations. Homer was educated by his mother at a very young age whereas Breton was sent to the finest schools , only discovering his love for at at the age of twenty. These facts too explain the severe differences between these two works, and their works throughout their careers. However different their surroundings and subject matter, their works do share an extremely important quality, the type of message conveyed. Breton and Homer both looked passed what others accepted as everyday life. To these men life is more than the class you have been born into. There is an infostructure and roots to every society. And though these people may not be closely examined and accepted, these artists show those who do not stop to catch a glimpse of someone else?s life that there is beauty and quality elsewhere. That is the goal of any good artist I believe, to educate the mind and stretch and stimulate the senses. Whether viewers reacted with appreciation or disgust, they were effected which is nothing but praise to an artist trying to show truth.