- Winslow Homer
- Children on the Beach (Watching the Tide Go Out; Watching the Boats)
- oil on canvas
- 12 5/8 by 16 1/2 in.
- 32.1 by 41.9 cm.
- Executed in 1873.
George S. Dole, Galesburg, Illinois (by descent from the above)
Ainslie Galleries, New York (1912)
The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York (1912)
M. Knoedler & Co., New York (1952)
Mr. and Mrs. Norman B. Woolworth, New York (1952)
Coe Kerr Gallery, New York
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (acquired from the above in May 1971)
Chicago, Illinois, The Art Institute of Chicago, Second Annual Exhibition, January 1884, cat. no. 8 (as Watching the Tide Go Out. A Study)
Chicago, Illinois, Inter-State Industrial Exposition of Chicago, Eighteenth Annual Exhibition, September - October 1890, cat. no. 149 (as Watching the Boats)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Museum of Art, Homer, May - June 1936, cat. no. 13 (dated 1883, 7 by 9 in.)
West Palm Beach, Norton Gallery and School of Art, Sea and Shore, January - February 1952, cat. no. 10, illustrated (dated 1883)
Tucson, The University of Arizona Art Gallery, Yankee Painter: A Retrospective Exhibition of Oils, Water Colors and Graphics by Winslow Homer, October - December 1963, cat. no. 137, p. 89 and p. 17, illustrated
Rockland, William A. Farnsworth Library and Art Museum, Winslow Homer, 1836-1910: Oils, Watercolors, Drawings, Wood Engravings, July - September 1970, cat. no. 10
New York, Coe Kerr Gallery, The American Painting Collection of Mrs. Norman B. Woolworth: An Exhibition for the Benefit of The Girl Scout Council of Greater New York, November 1970, cat. no. 55, p. 34, illustrated (dated 1883)
“Children on the Beach,” The Bulletin of The Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, vol 9, November 16, 1912, p. 285, illustrated and p. 284
The Brooklyn Museum Quarterly, vol V, January - October 1918, p. 55, illustrated
Lloyd Goodrich, "Winslow Homer," The Arts, October 1924, p. 201, illustrated and pp. 185-209
Theodore Bolton, "The Art of Winslow Homer: An Estimate in 1932," Fine Arts, February 1932, p. 54
Lloyd Goodrich, Winslow Homer, New York, 1959, pl. 28, p. 51, illustrated
Gordon Hendricks, The Life and Work of Winslow Homer, New York, 1979, p. 295
D. Scott Atkinson and Jochen Wierich, Winslow Homer in Gloucester, Chicago, 1990, fig. 11, p. 21, illustrated
Lloyd Goodrich and Abigail Booth Gerdts, Record of Works by Winslow Homer: 1867 Through 1876, New York, 2005, vol II, cat. no. 465, p. 243, illustrated and pp. 242-44
Already a successful illustrator in New York, having contributed skilled wood engravings to Harper’s Weekly and other publications for over fifteen years, the thirty-six year old Homer was struggling to establish himself as an artist. He began painting in 1862 without any formal training in art, yet had achieved only mixed success. The summer of 1873 in Gloucester was the first period in which Homer seriously pursued painting in watercolor, a medium which readily lent itself to a fresh, spontaneous portrayal of children at play on the docks and local beaches. In Gloucester, Homer combined his deep-rooted passion for the out-of-doors with a desire to explore technical concerns, and he repeated the theme of boys along the shore in numerous charcoal sketches and oils, such as Children on the Beach, completed at the same time.
Homer's experimentation traversing oil, watercolor, pencil and printmaking as he developed new approaches to capturing what he saw before him, affected both his technique and his palette. Helen A. Cooper writes, “When Homer began to work seriously in watercolor, the influence on his oils was immediately apparent. Until the summer of 1873, his oil palette had been essentially one of the actual color of the object, uninfluenced by the reflected light or relative color. Afterward, he translated the often high-keyed tones of many of the watercolors into oil… The ‘sketchiness’ of his watercolor technique also influenced the brushwork in oil: rapid strokes now became a graphic means, communicating the impression of action and life. The result in oil is a fresher, more direct, more painterly touch than before” (Winslow Homer Watercolors, New Haven, Connecticut, 1986, p. 36).
The Gloucester waterfront, with its groups of boys boating, clamming and watching the sailboats pass by, provided ideal subject matter for Homer, who was especially drawn to children outdoors during the 1870s. Children on the Beach exemplifies the artist’s primary theme of that summer—here depicting a group of young boys perched on an overturned dory looking idly out to the sailboats dotting the harbor. Homer also depicted the central figures in a pencil and watercolor drawing (figure 2), making for an interesting study of the artist’s exploration of the same subject in different mediums. In the drawing, the dory upon which the boys are seated is more clearly delineated, clarifying the juxtaposition of the boat against the rocks seen in Children on the Beach. Despite the fact they depict nearly identical central subjects, there is a marked difference in composition between the two. Children on the Beach presents a more developed scene, with the addition of coastal hills in the background, a rock outcropping behind the dory and another figure in the foreground, giving the painting a more intimate feeling than the drawing, which presents the boys against the sea, with the sailboats on a distant horizon.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, childhood became an idealized age, symbolizing the lost innocence of the antebellum era. Books written about or for children, such as those by Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott, enjoyed immense popularity. To Homer, childhood was a distinct phase of life independent from the adult world; the sense of wonder, discovery and hope that characterized the age captivated the artist during this period. According to Lloyd Goodrich, children “were pictured with a sympathy that had no trace of the mawkish sentimentality common at the time. Homer had retained both the child’s realism and the child’s sense of wonder; his art is the world as a boy sees and feels it, painted with a man’s grasp of actuality. This world has an early-morning freshness, a sense of unexplored delight, such as we remember from childhood days in the country, when work was play, a day’s fishing an adventure, being snowbound a pure joy. Underlying the sober naturalism of Homer’s style was a deep strain of idyllic poetry” (Winslow Homer, New York, 1959, p. 16). Gloucester was the ideal locale for Homer to explore his interests in both childhood and the sea, with boys idling away the hours, as seen in Children on the Beach, becoming his favored subject during the summer of 1873.