Winslow Homer 1836 - 1910
- Winslow Homer
- Orange Trees and Gate
- signed Winslow Homer and dated 1885, l.l.
- watercolor on paper
- 14 by 20 1/2 in.
- (35.6 by 52.1 cm)
(Reichard & Co., New York, 1885)
Russell Sturgis, New York, probably 1885
Edward Sturgis, New York, 1909 (bequest of the above)
Agnes Sturgis, Pleasantville, New York, 1946 (bequest of the above)
(Knoedler Gallery, New York, 1946)
(Wildenstein Gallery, New York, 1946)
Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman, Detroit, Michigan, 1954
Priscilla Alden Bartlett Henderson, circa 1959 (sold: Sotheby Parke Bernet, April 25, 1980, lot 38, illustrated in color)
Lano Art Association, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1980
New York, Reichard & Co., Water-Color Views by Winslow Homer, [c. 18-c. 31], December 1885, no. 8 (as Orange Tree)
New York, New York Watercolor Club, Thirteenth Annual Exhibition, November-December 1902, no. 17 (as Orange Tree, Nassau [sic])
New York, Wildenstein & Co., A Loan Exhibition of Winslow Homer for the Benefit of the New York Botanical Garden, February-March 1947, no. 62
Houston, Texas, Allied Arts Association Annual Art Festival, Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings by Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, November 1952, no. 25
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum; New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Art Gallery, Winslow Homer Watercolors, March-November 1986, no. 123
Martha Tedeschi and Kristi Dahm, Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, 2008, no. 2, p. 170, illustrated in color (as Orange Tree, Nassau)
The Atlantic Ocean washes the shores of Prout's Neck, Maine, and Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas. In December 1884 Winslow Homer left the chill of his coastal home in Maine, and, together with his recently widowed father, sailed from New York to Nassau. Then as now, Nassau was a favorite tourist destination, especially for visitors from the wintry northeast. The Bahamian capital city offered a welcome respite of brilliant sunshine and mild temperatures. From June through November of 1884, The New York Times had published a series of articles describing Nassau and its near neighbor, Cuba. Written by William Drysdale (and reprinted by Harper and Brother's in book form in 1885 with the title "In Sunny Lands"), the message was consistent:
Nothing can be more delightful than leaving snow-bound and ice-bound New York and landing in three days in the height of summer at Nassau. There the trees are ever green, flowers ever bloom, and old Frost is kept forever at bay. . . . Landed in Nassau the visitor is . . . only a few steps from the Royal Victoria Hotel. This is the largest and finest building in the Bahama Islands. . . . It occupies an elevated position, near the crest of the hill, and is the most conspicuous building in the city, seen from the harbor. . . . The hotel [has] a broad veranda surrounding every story but the highest, giving thousands of feet of promenading room.
Indeed, Homer and his father stayed at the elegant Royal Victoria Hotel, the center of Nassau society. Then as now, it often fell to the unmarried sibling to look after a widowed parent. In this case, Homer's father, Charles Savage Homer, Jr., was a supremely self-confident and reliably improvident character, who required careful superintendence in order to preserve the family peace of mind. Nassau promised to be a watercolor paradise, a prospect that might mitigate Homer's undertaking of this filial obligation. With his father suitably accommodated, Homer was free to roam, looking for appropriate subjects and locations for his brush.
While some artists used the medium of watercolor as a handy portable summer tool, ideal for plein air sketches that could serve as preliminaries to "serious" winter studio oil paintings, this was emphatically not the case for Homer. While Homer characteristically addressed the same themes in watercolor and oil, his watercolors were intended to stand on their own as full-fledged works of art. Ever the alert businessman, Homer understood that he could reach a wider audience of patrons and purchasers with his watercolors than with the substantially more expensive studio oils. But it was not just economics that drew Homer to watercolor. He appreciated the medium and experimented constantly with it, intent on increasing his ability to capture the spontaneity of fleeting effects of light and motion.
Homer's initial approach to watercolor had been modest and tentative. In 1870, he sent an Adirondack watercolor to the annual exhibit of the American Society of Painters in Water Colors (later, the American Water Color Society). Three years later, during a summer in Gloucester, Massachusetts, he produced his first watercolor series. Homer continued to paint in watercolor in the Adirondacks and in Maine, employing the medium for figure and genre studies as well as landscape. In February 1879, he achieved outstanding critical success with the twenty-three watercolor and gouaches he showed at the exhibition of the American Water Color Society. A return visit to Gloucester in 1880 yielded a series of watercolor works characterized by slashes of brilliant color which replaced line as a means of defining shape. When Homer exhibited some of these works at The Century Club, one critic wrote "What the 'impressionists' try to do and fail, Winslow Homer [does] and succeed[s] (Independent 33, [3 February 1881], p. 8, as quoted in Cooper, p. 76). Homer's next major watercolor series was the result of his nearly two-year stay in Cullercoats, England. Here, in stark contrast, Homer worked with a subdued palette and strongly modeled figures, expressing the sober life of a fishing village and its people with precision. Mrs. Schuyler (Mariana Griswold) Van Rensselaer wrote of these in The Century in 1883, "The most complete and beautiful things he has yet produced . . . They are . . . pictures in the truest sense, and not mere studies or sketches, like most of his earlier aquarelles. . . . (Cooper, p. 119).
When Homer arrived in the Bahamas, he saw dazzling light. Brilliant sunshine reflected off white walls and roads of calcified coral and limestone, the whole united under a bright blue sky, and punctuated by lush tropical foliage. And that is what he painted, with liberal expanses of white paper showing through. He also found rich subject matter in the everyday activities of the Negro population of the island, resettled descendants of former Caribbean slaves freed in 1834 when the British Empire abolished slavery. Homer's Bahamian natives, especially its sponge divers and conch fishermen, offered a marked contrast from his North Sea narrative in Cullercoats, both in subject and in style.
Orange Trees and Gate takes as its topic one of the curiosities of the island for a denizen of the American Northeast, the orange tree. Originally native to Northern India or China, the orange came to Europe along the trade routes. Christopher Columbus carried the first orange seeds to the New World in his second trip in 1493. By the mid- nineteenth century orange cultivation had been introduced in Florida, Arizona and California, but the bulk of the fruit finding its way to New York and the northeast came on ships from the West Indies and Mediterranean Europe. While the bright orange fruit was a familiar delicacy for urban Americans, the tree itself was an exotic presence. Homer's rendering of the lush green leaves of the tree, heavily laden with ripe fruit, standing outside a typical Bahamian residence neatly summarizes the notion of tropical paradise that Nassau evoked in the minds of an American audience. Nine engravings of Homer's Nassau watercolors (not including the present work) were reproduced in The Century Magazine in an February 1887 article entitled "A Midwinter Resort." In keeping with the "serious" tone of this journal, the author, William C. Church, took a distinctly and somewhat hilarious curmudgeonly tone. No puff piece this, Church summoned a list of political, maritime, and climatic disasters that had punctuated the area's history, grudgingly allowing that "for those not compelled to live there, the Bahamas have their charms" (p. 500).
Homer's first trip to the tropics resulted in thirty-six watercolors which he showed in New York and Boston. At least two, the present work and The Conch Divers (Collection of the Minneapolis Institute of the Fine Arts) were acquired by Russell Sturgis (1836-1909). An engraving of The Conch Divers served as one of the illustrations for The Century article. Sturgis's imprimatur was significant. He was a prominent architect and art critic, a taste maker himself, who advised the reading public on how to judge art and what to purchase. Sturgis's support of Homer appears to date back at least to 1870, when (according to Margaret Conrads, Winslow Homer and the Critics, p. 216, n. 85) he arranged for Joseph H. Scranton, a Pennsylvania iron and steel magnate, to buy Homer's oil painting, An Adirondack Lake (Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle). Sturgis's interest in watercolor began in the early 1860s when he was a founding member of the Society for the Advancement of Truth in Art (the American Pre-Raphaelites) and a frequent contributor to its journal, The New Path. Among numerous other affiliations, Sturgis was an active member of the University and Century Clubs, a founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and one of three advisors designated by Samuel Avery to shape the collection of the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University.