The Hearst Art Gallery is currently showing "Winslow Homer: The Illustrator," featuring 140 wood engravings that begins with the work of a little-known but promising 21-year-old artist, Winslow Homer (1836 - 1910), and witnesses his growth over a thirty-year period from a self-taught illustrator to a major figure in 19th century American art.
Homer' black and white narratives tell the story of this country through intimate, first-person glimpses of 19th century Americans: at work, at play, abroad, and at war. Homer is at home along the eastern seaboard and its seasons, landscapes, and ocean. Author and art critic Robert Hughes assert that Homer "brought both intense observation and a sense of identification with the landscape - just at the cultural moment when the religious wilderness of the nineteenth century, the church of nature, was shifting into the secular outdoors...If you want to see Thoreau's America turning into Teddy Roosevelt's, Homer is the man to consult."
Raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, then a semi-rural town, Homer was apprenticed to a lithographer as a teenager. By 1857, he was already a free-lance artist, illustrator and engraver, contributing to Harper's Weekly and Ballou's Pictorial. Two years later Homer moved to New York to work as a magazine illustrator. His early training served him well as he worked within the limits of a black and white medium better than any artist at the time. From his sketchbooks, he would draw directly onto the surface of planed, end cut hardwood blocks. Engravers would painstakingly and faithfully incise his lines and crosshatches. The boxwood blocks were then assembled with text blocks, inked, and printed. For large circulation magazines, the pressroom's electrotypist, using a wax mold and coppe r solution process, created a thin but exact replica of the surface, which was fitted onto the press. Tens of thousands of exact copies could be produced in a relatively short time.
During the Civil War, Homer was sent to the front as an artist-correspondent for Harper's Weekly, where his war images graphically carried their readers to the battlefield and encampments.
Fifty are included in the exhibition, including his best known, " The Yankee Sharpshooter." After the war, Harper's Weekly sent him to Europe to chronicle the lives of Americans abroad, which produced some of his most unselfconscious and intimate work.
Perhaps because of his experience covering the horror of Civil War battles, in his later years, Homer chose to portray a gentle, idealized version look at the leisure life of Americans, by the sea, in the Adirondacks, and in Europe, untouched by the effects of Reconstruction or the Industrial Revolution. He continued to illustrate the lives of factory workers and fishermen and had a particular talent for portraying children, with an emphasis on the carefree nature of their lives. His 1873 "Snap-the-Whip" may be the most famous depiction ever of American children at play. Homer died at his home in Maine in 1910.
This exhibition is on loan from the Cornell Fine Arts Museum in Winter Park, Florida, repository one of the largest collections of Homer prints.
The Hearst Art Gallery, accredited by the American Association of Museums, is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Slide Lecture: "Winslow Homer and The Civil War"
Wednesday, March 3, 7:30 – 8:30 p.m., Lafayette room, Soda Center
Dr. Carl Guarneri, professor of History
Free to the Saint Mary's College community
Civil War Living History Day
Saturday, March 6, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Cannon and artillery demonstrations, surgery tent
# # #
Contact: Heidi Donner (925) 631-4069 or [email protected]