Winslow Homer Gulf Stream Essay Research Paper

Winslow Homer, Gulf Stream Essay, Research Paper

During the late nineteenth century, many great American artist were becoming recognized world wide for their abilities. Winslow Homer was among these great artist, and is in most cases is considered the greatest American artist of his time. His life was basically devoted to the creation of art, and over time his abilities won him worldwide recognition and fame. In retrospect, he is not only viewed as the greatest artist of his time, but is arguably the best American Painter ever.

Winslow Homer was born in Boston in 1836. He grew up in Cambridge, and at age 18, started working in a lithograph shop in Boston. This started his life as an artist, quitting his job at the lithograph shop at 21, and becoming a freelance illustrator. He was frequently published in Harper s Weekly throughout most of his life. When Homer was 23 he moved to New York, and acquired a studio. From this point, he started producing significant paintings, the first of which, Skating in Central Park , was displayed at the National Academy of Design in 1860, Homer was only 24. Four years later he was elected as an associate to the Academy.

While living in New York for nearly 23 years, he took many trips. He was able to spend a year in Paris when he was 30, learning the European styles, which would only further his greatness as an artist. Homer would also frequent the mountains in the summer, including the Adirondacks, and the White Mountains, as well as trips to Virginia, always looking for subject matter. Looking at his paintings from this time, he seemed never to be short of ideas for new paintings, creating several paintings a year.

From New York, Homer mover to Prout s Neck, where he would live the rest of his life. While living at Prout s Neck, Homer was able to create his greatest paintings, ever still improving on his style, and abilities. However, he still continued to travel quiet a bit, making several trips, wintering in the Bahamas, and Florida. During his first trip to the Caribbean in 1885, he was greatly inspired to produce painting of the power of nature, and the overwhelming power of the sea.

However, his greatest painting of the sea were not produced for many years after this initial trip. It was 5 to 10 years later when he started creating his series of seascapes. It actually took him 15 years to produce The Gulf Stream , his best known work, which he made the initial watercolor of on his first trip in 1885. This painting took him months to create, but was well worth the effort, winning him worldwide recognition, and many honors.

The Gulf Stream is a painting of a single man on a boat, but what is exciting about the painting is the situation the man is in. The mast of his boat is broken, and surrounded by sharks, and to top it off, the sea is stormy, and there is an approaching waterspout. In the upper left corner, off in the distance, there is a ship sailing by. The painting is very dark, and very threatening to the viewer. It is very dramatic in its representation, and id viewed by many to be to terrifying to be considered great art.

To create a threatening atmosphere, Homer used a narrow palette of dark colors, with many grays, browns, dark blues, and black. While for the most part the colors are local, however, there are several sections of brownish-red in the water, which may represent something like blood. The darker sections of the water are around the sharks and the waterspout, which are the most threatening area. Other than that the water has some nice lighter blue representative of tropical waters. The only other light colors are that of the lines coming out of the belly of the boat. These lines are orange and green, which add a dash of color to an otherwise very dark scene. The dark colors accentuate the trouble areas in the painting, they are the darkest areas. The light of the whole painting comes from and overcast gray sky, which creates a dreary ambiance. There are hardly any shadows due to the lack of a light source creating an even more threatening ambiance.

The painting has so much action that it seems rather cluttered at first glance. The bottom half of the painting is crammed with action between the sharks and the boat. The upper half only contains a ship off in the distance that is barely seen and the waterspout in the opposite corner. However, the water is very light colored in some sections while dark in others, and this seems to make you look all around the painting. The water is also very choppy, containing big waves, which adds excitement to the painting. The diagonal position of the man points to the waterspout dragging your eye to it.

The painting is rather over whelming at first. How could one man be able to endure so much disaster, yet remain so calm? He was blown out to sea by a hurricane, which broke the mast on his tiny boat. He is surrounded by sharks waiting for the waves to force the man into the water, and to top things off, he is being threatened by a waterspout which, if was able to escape everything else, would surly kill him. Because of all these threatening aspects, many people did not like the painting when first exhibited, and was 6 years old when it was eventually sold.

The meaning of the painting can be read in many different ways, or is polysemic. At first glance, the painting is of a black man lost at sea, but he seems unafraid. This could be representative of the strength of African American s at this time. The civil war had ended, but this was the time of the Jim Crow laws and other such acts against African Americans. Another second look at the painting can reveal another meaning that deals with the industrial side of America. This was the time of the Industrial Revolution. Men like Rockefeller, and Carnegie were making their fortunes. The choppy water and other dangers could be representative of the trials one must endure to make their way in life.

However, the most plausible meaning seems to be of Homer s emotional state at the time. The year Gulf Stream was painted was a very trying year for him. Not only was he getting on in years, at age 63, but also it was the end of the century. Another major factor was his father, and only surviving parent, past away this year. All these hardships may have left Homer feeling as never before, alone, abandoned, and mortally vulnerable. For these reasons this explanation of the painting seems the most feasible. This may have been too powerful an expression for most people to grasp though, and would lead to problems in selling the painting.

The first exhibition that this painting was in was in 1900, even though it was not completed, at the Pennsylvania Academy. The Director of the Pennsylvania Academy wrote in 1900, even though the painting was not completed, The greatest American art exhibition cannot open without an example from the greatest American artist asking for The Gulf Stream. The painting was sent to the exhibition, and afterwards completed by Homer. After this initial exhibition, the painting made another appearance in 1900 at Knoedler s. Then was transported to Chicago and Venice in 1902 to try and sell. However, it was unable to sell at any of these places. It was recognized as a great work of art by those who knew what art was, but the majority thought it too violent, and terrifying.

Newspaper critics, who were uneducated in art, had many disagreeable comments about the painting. For example, the SUN said it was too crowded with naturalistic melodrama. Other comments included that it was too cruel, and just a mediocre painting. The critics at the time were just looking at the painting as a whole. Their analysis was not at all technical, and this is the reason that the painting was disliked. No normal person was able to see past the horrors, which the painting portrayed, to see the masterpiece that it actually was.

However, those who knew what great art was praised the painting. The New York Times stated about Homer, no living painter quite reaches him. In 1906, at the National Academy s exhibit, the jury suggested the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchase the painting. After a letter was produced from the jury, signed by every member, and sent to the board of the MET, the painting was eventually bought. The price of $4500 was the largest sum Homer has ever been paid for a single painting, as well as being the first canvas the MET had ever bought at an art show.

While he was a great artist all his life, Winslow Homer is said to have blossomed in his old age as an artist. His greatest works were created in the 1890 s when he was well into his fifties. His maturity and patience as an artist paid off in Gulf Stream, actually spending months creating it. However, being in the twilight of his days, he lacked the ability to travel as much, and hence did not create many more brilliant works of art.

After the Sale of the Gulf Stream Homer became very ill, and was unable to paint from 1905-1908. Again in 1908 he was ill, this time struck by a paralytic stroke. With failing health he was unable to do much. He eventually died at Prout s Neck, on September 29th 1910. He was 74 years old. He is still considered one of the greatest American artist to ever live, being ahead of most painters of his day and several jumps ahead of the critics.


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Gardner, Albert Ten Eyck. Winslow Homer, American artist: his world and his work. New York, Bramhall House, division of C. N. Potter [c1961]

Hendricks, Gordon. The life and work of Winslow Homer / Gordon Hendricks. New York : H. N. Abrams, 1979.

Homer, Winslow, 1836-1910. Winslow Homer in the 1890s : Prout’s Neck observed / essays by Philip C. Beam … [et al.]. New York : Hudson Hills Press, c1990.

Mather, Frank Jewett, 1868-1953. Estimates in art. Series II. Sixteen essays on American painters of the nineteenth century. Freeport, N.Y., Books for Libraries Press [1970, c1931]

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