signed Homer and dated 1878, l.r.
watercolor and pencil on paper
This watercolor will be included in the forthcoming Spanierman Gallery/CUNY/Goodrich/Whitney catalogue raisonné of the works of Winslow Homer.
Winslow Homer spent the summer and fall of 1878 at Houghton Farm, the country home of his friend and patron, Lawson Valentine. Located near Mountainville, New York, Houghton Farm embodied the timeless nature of rural life in America that captured Homer’s imagination during this period. Spring is a charming example of the watercolors the artist produced during this particularly prolific time.
Homer returned to New York with a portfolio of images of children on the farm, about which a contemporary critic wrote, “To Mr. Homer belongs the distinction of having discovered the American shepherdess and introduced her to the public in studies that are more essentially and distinctively pastoral than any American artist has yet attempted” (Winslow Homer, Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 1996, p. 163). According to Linda Ayres, “Spring is one of those idyllic and fresh pastoral scenes and shows a boy and a girl—Homer often depicted pairs of figures and objects—by a rail fence near a rolling blue hill. Lawson Valentine’s daughter-in-law identified the children that Homer chose to pose for him as members of the Babcock family, squatters on nearby Schenemunk Mountain. Dressed in work clothes, the children symbolize American rural life” (American Paintings, Watercolors, and Drawings from the Collection of Rita and Daniel Fraad, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum, 1985, p. 10).
Spring belongs to a series of four watercolors in which a girl and boy meet by a fence or stile, which Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr. observes appear to relate compositionally to Degas’ ballet scenes of the mid-1870s (figures 1 & 2). Mr. Cikovsky writes, “It is attractive to think of the boys and girls climbing fences that constitute a serial subset of the Houghton Farm watercolors as being in their natural gracefulness the rustic American counterpart of the ballet dancers that Edgar Degas made at approximately the same time. It is interesting to know, therefore, that Degas’ Rehearsal of the Ballet was exhibited at the watercolor society exhibition in New York earlier in the same year in which Homer painted them. Lent by Louisine Havemeyer, it was the first Degas seen in America” (Winslow Homer, 1996, p. 166).
The Houghton Farm pictures represent a new phase in the development of Homer’s watercolor style. Helen Cooper writes about the artist’s increasing proficiency in watercolor, “Homer’s masterly handling of pigment weight and consistency and his knowing use of the paper’s texture give to even the simplest color harmonies a variety and delicacy that he had earlier attempted to achieve through spongings. In Spring, executed on heavier, grainier watercolor stock well-suited to sketchy, atmospheric effects, he plays the young girl’s lilac-pink pinafore, with its blue and purple shadows, against the blue and yellow-greens of the landscape and the ocher tones of the fence rail and the boy’s straw hat. The colors settled irregularly in places, trapping tiny pools of darker tint in the hollows of the paper; elsewhere, pinpricks of white glitter through, untouched by color, adding sparkle and depth to the washes” (Winslow Homer Watercolors, New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Art Gallery, 1986, p. 58).
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