signed Winslow Homer and dated 1874, l.l.
Benjamin M. Day, New York (probably acquired directly from the artist)
Mrs. Benjamin M. Day, New York (bequest from the above), 1902
Benjamin M. Day, Jr., New York (Commissioner of Immigration, Ellis Island; bequest from the above, her son), 1931
Gifted to the present owner by the above, 1931
Century Association, New York, Dec 1875, no. 24 (as Boy and Boat)
Tucson, Arizona, University of Arizona Art Gallery, Yankee Painter: A Retrospective Exhibition of Oils, Watercolors and Graphics by Winslow Homer, October-December 1963, no. 115 (as Fisherman Seated on Edge of Beach Boat Winding Line)
Norfolk, Virginia, The Mariners Museum; Richmond, Virginia, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Homer and the Sea, September-November 1964, no. 13
"The Arts," Appletons' Journal of Literature, Science and Art, November 6, 1875, 14, pp. 602-03
"Art at the Century," (NY) Evening Post, December 6, 1875
"The Arts," Appletons' Journal of Literature, Science and Art, December 25, 1875, 14, p. 827
Lloyd Goodrich and Abigail Booth Gerdts, Record of Works by Winslow Homer, 1867 through 1876, vol. II, New York, 2005, no. 580, pp. 374-75, illustrated p. 375, p. 488 (in color)
In the decades of recovery after the Civil War, great waves of industrialization and immigration were followed by periods of severe financial strain, and increasing class conflict. Americans, as one scholar put it, felt as if "they had witnessed a nation forced into maturity." A Harvard professor wrote in 1869 that the war had produced "a great gulf between what happened before in our century and what has happened since, or what is likely to happen hereafter." (Frederick Ilckhman, Winslow Homer in the 1870s: Selections from the Valentine-Pulsifer Collection, 1990, p. 48) The trauma of the war and the turmoil of Reconstruction led many artists and authors to gravitate towards the subjects that embodied the sense of optimism and innocence that characterized America's national spirit before the great conflict. Winslow Homer, Seymour J. Guy, Eastman Johnson and John George Brown painted children in idealized settings and literature about or written for children, such as Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, enjoyed immense popularity in a nation desperate for a sense of renewal.
As an artist-correspondent for Harper's Weekly, Homer had witnessed the brutality and the devastation of the war first hand, and works like Prisoners from the Front (1866, Metropolitan Museum of Art) helped establish his reputation. By the end of the 1860s, however, Homer's works became increasing devoted to images of American youth in every aspect of an honest and simple rural existence, whether on the farm or at the shore. Homer's young Americans are carefree and uniquely absorbed: clamming, egg-hunting, berry-picking, fishing and sailing during the lazy days of summer. Helen Cooper writes that, his "paintings such as Snap the Whip (1872, Metropolitan Museum of Art)....reinvent childhood, merging nostalgia for his own boyhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with memories of a bygone world of warmth, trust, and shared experiences" (Winslow Homer Watercolors, 1986, p. 26).
In 1873, Homer visited the busy fishing port of Gloucester, Massachusetts where he rented rooms in the Atlantic Hotel, overlooking the Town Landing and the bustling activity on the wharves. In Gloucester Homer was again preoccupied with the unblemished world of youth and his work from the period focused particularly on the young boys playing along the shore or boating in the shallow waters. However, Homer's Gloucester pictures differ from earlier playful works like Snap the Whip or The Bird Catchers (1867). The economic panic of 1873 was the start of a long depression and although the images of the Gloucester boys awaken fond memories of forgotten summer afternoons, their averted eyes and far off gazes suggest a longing for a sense of security that had vanished with the Civil War. As D. Scott Atkinson has noted of these Gloucester children, "They are seldom so jubilant as the children of years past: in contrast to their predecessors at play, they often sit pensively, almost broodingly, with gazes fixed on the ocean or harbor" (Winslow Homer in Gloucester, 1990, p. 16).
When Homer made his first trip to Prout's Neck, Maine to visit his newlywed younger brother Arthur Benson Homer in 1875, he continued with boys and boats as subject matter, but shifted to a more mature model. Although Winding Line is dated 1874, Abigail Gerdts notes it was more likely painted during the 1875 visit to Maine. His model, a young man, wears an oilskin hat, fishing waders and boots, and appears to be the same figure in other 1875 works such as A Fish Story (Private collection), Sunset (National Gallery of Art), and Looking Out (Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon Collection). Most convincing is a description of the paintings in Homer's studio – the result of his 1875 summer's work – reported in the Appletons' Journal of November 6, 1875: "A visit to Mr. Winslow Homer's studio a few days ago showed us about twenty important studies as the result of his summer vacation. Of these, eight are large paintings in oils.... Looking over the pictures, the visitor finds that Mr. Homer has made great use of some half-dozen models which he has arranged and grouped in a variety of ways .... Another subject is the very picturesque figure of a young fisher-boy, who left his nets for a good 'consideration,' to devote his time to the business of posing for Mr. Homer. In one of the pictures, in which this boy appears, he is sitting upon the edge of a broad, round-keeled boat that has been drawn upon a pebbly beach, beyond which the blue seawater is dancing in a small cove. In another sketch, taken just after sunset, this fisherboy again appears in his boat, which has floated up one of the little channels so characteristic of salt marshes in the neighborhood of the sea."
Homer's Prout's Neck pictures are different in tone than those he painted in Gloucester. While the models in works like Breezing Up (1875, National Gallery of Art) are not the energetic spirited children of Snap the Whip, they appear younger and more carefree than the figures in A Fish Story or Winding Line. John Wilmerding writes: "The individual isolated and solitary acquired ever greater gravity of form and mood [in the1870s]. Just as Homer himself was moving from his late youth into middle age, so too we watch his early preference for recording the activities of children yield to figures of early maturity, painted with a sense of self-awareness and the nuances of a psychological sensibility" (Winslow Homer in the 1870s, 1990, p. 14).
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