Thursday, February 28, 2008

Contemplating Homer

On Guard - 1864

Homer (the painter, not the poet)
is at the Art Institute for the next few months,
so here's a record of my first visit
(and maybe my last -- if it keeps being so crowded)

is the first painting that grabbed me,
and if Homer had stopped there,
he would have accomplished enough for me.

He was 28 when did that oil,
with plenty of experience in
narrative engraving for magazines,
but not many paintings
(at least that have survived)

A dark, somewhat foreboding foreground,
but beyond it,
the peaceful contemplation of boundless opportunity.
The land - the sky - the young life- the stillness
everything is possible - and delicious!

And what a sky!

("what a day for a daydream,
custom made for a daydreamin' boy")

There's a lot of Homer that doesn't send me.
I don't care for his clean little calvary charges,
or for most of his solitary figures.
Yes -- I get the point -- he's lonely.
Those figures usually have little sense of volume
and they feel cut-and-pasted onto their background.

The one shown above,
is the only one I liked.

(apparently -around 1880 he took
a long trip to England
where he saw the seascapes of Turner --
with their inclusion of multiple figures.
This set him out in a new direction,
but I don't think he was very good at it)

Homer also had this thing for studious young women,
especially school teachers.
(actually -- those are the paintings of his
that I remember the most,
especially that one inside a school house --
and unfortunately, these were not included
in this exhibit)

Sunset at Gloucester - 1880

But then we have the seascapes !

Sunset Fires, 1880

Especially this one -- I screamed when I saw it.

Prout's Neck Evening - 1894 (M.A.R.)

And the bleakness !
Oh -- I love bleakness

Breaking storm - 1894 (M.A.R.)

I just can't get enough of these shimmering
but dreary scenes
(though his birds are just annoying,
he needs to work on that some more)

Sunset and Shade - 1894 (M.A.R.)

Is there a better poet of bleakness ?
(i.e -- a bleakness that's enjoyable)

West Point - 1900

And here's a really big one,
done in oils this time,
and a bit more dramatic,
almost like some kind of battle scene.

In person,
that big cloud of spray
really shimmers.

After the Hurricane, 1899 (M.A.R.)

Like many American artists of his time (and after)
Homer liked to paint in scenic spots
and I'm really glad he went to the Bahamas,
as it opened up a whole different world of feeling.

He's doing a lot better with these figures, too

Water fan - 1898

He treating his figures more like elements of design
and less like actors on a small stage.

Stowing Sail -1903 (M.A.R.)

Homer makes a point of telling us that he painted this
in one afternoon
(no re-working back at the studio)

What an exciting,
quick painting !

I stand in awe.

Interrupted - 1892 (M.A.R.)

Then - he's back in the Adirondacks,
and he feels like a Thoreau,
out in nature,
all by himself.

Can you hear the wind blowing through the trees ?

Waiting for the start - 1889

This was his only painting of dogs in the show,
but I think he could have dominated this genre
if he wanted to.

How can you see this arrangement,
not begin to laugh
at all that canine anticipation ?

Rowing Home - 1890

Here's what Duncan Phillips,
the uber-collector
who founded a modern museum in Washington DC
had to say about this painting in his collection:

"Winslow Homer...was unconscious of pure aesthetic inscription when, instinctively, he laid on those suggestive darks over that luminous expanse … The ripples of water in the wake of the oars required a quick simplification of brush stroke. Quickly he wrote it down, just as he saw it. That is the modern as it differs from the ancient calligraphy."

Maybe that's why I like it so much,
and mostly prefer Homer's later work.

note 1: The National Gallery presents a really nice pictorial chronology
(and take a closer look at the one from 1899,
how I wish that one had traveled to Chicago)

note 2: It turns out that most of my favorites items from this exhibit came
from the collection of the A.I.C.'s great benefactor,
Martin A. Ryerson (1856-1932)
and they have been noted above with the initials: M.A.R.

The role of the wise collector in the history of art
cannot be exaggerated,
and you'll note that Ryerson was born just 18 years after Homer.


Anonymous artiseternal said...

There are some rather glorious pieces of art here - Homer has such a good drawing sensibility that underpins all his work whether oil or watercolour. It makes you feel that you are standing in the painting, not three feet away looking in from a gallery window (frame).

March 07, 2008  
Anonymous marly said...

I could live with any of the watery ones. You're right, the birds are annoying, though the colors and light in that one are lovely. Perhaps if they had, like those last waves, looked more like a message hastily inscribed on their proper element...

March 10, 2008  
Blogger Michael said...

Thanks Chris for some very inspiring watercolour pieces from one of my favourite artists. I find that Homer used a lot of economy in the way he composed his paintings, but these few brushstrokes convey so much. I would have loved to see him at work in the outdoors on one of these pieces.
The exhibition in Chicago must have been wonderful; maybe someday it will make its way to our National Gallery here in Ottawa.

March 12, 2008  

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