Lot 4
  • 4

Winslow Homer 1836 - 1910

400,000 - 600,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Winslow Homer
  • Yacht in a Cove, Gloucester
  • Signed Homer and dated 1880 (lower left)
  • Watercolor on paper
  • 10 by 13 3/4 inches
  • (25.4 by 34.9 cm)


Doll & Richards, Boston, 1880
Private Collection, New Haven, Connecticut
Kennedy Galleries, New York, by 1972
John T. Dorrance, Jr. (and sold: Sotheby's New York, October 18, 1989, lot 6, illustrated)
Acquired at the above sale by A. Alfred Taubman


New York, Kennedy Galleries, American Masters, 18th and 19th Centuries, March-April 1973, no. 42, p. 45, illustrated (as Sloop in a Bay)


Lloyd Goodrich and Abigail Booth Gerdts, Record of Works by Winslow Homer: 1877 through 1881, New York, 2008, vol. III, no. 911, p. 308, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Yacht in a Cove, Gloucester
By Katherine E. Manthorne

Gloucester, Massachusetts could rightly be called the Barbizon of American art, a locale where artists from native son Fitz Henry Lane to Edward Hopper were inspired by its rocky coastline, picturesque architecture, and distinctive North Atlantic light to paint directly in the open air. Certainly Winslow Homer’s art was reborn when he left behind what he regarded as the bondage of a Boston lithography firm and the horrors of Civil War battlefields for the rugged beauty of this busy New England seaport. Having practiced watercolor since that first visit in 1873, he returned in the summer of 1880 to further his studies in the medium. This time he took up residence on Ten Pound Island, in the middle of Gloucester Harbor. Named in 1644 in reference to its usage as a place for grazing rams (a “pound” was an old English measure for how much land a sheep or ram needed for grazing), it provided the perfect retreat for a New York based artist who famously kept out prying eyes when he was working by placing a sign on the studio door “Winslow Homer is not at home.”[1] Art dealer J. Eastman Chase recalled: “Here he lived for one summer rowing across to the town only when in need of materials. The freedom from intrusion which he found in this little spot was precisely to his liking.” It was an incredibly productive interlude, when he produced over 100 watercolors including Yacht in a Cove, Gloucester. By December Doll & Richards, the Boston gallery that would handle his work for the remainder of his career, exhibited them to great acclaim.[2]

The mile and a half wide mouth of Gloucester’s outer harbor is marked on the west by Norman’s Woe and on the east by the Eastern Point Lighthouse. During that summer we can imagine Homer exploring every rocky outcropping and cove along its waterfront, both on foot and by boat. To make this watercolor he likely positioned himself along the western shore of the outer harbor, near where Stage Fort Park stands today. There the grassy slopes still descend down to the water’s edge, much as Homer depicted them. His predecessor Fitz Henry Lane rendered this spot many times, including his Stage Rocks and Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor (1857; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). For local resident Lane deep historical significance imbued this geographical site, thought to be the first place where the English settlers landed and constructed their fledgling community, the term “stage” referring to the fish flakes they would erect there for salting and drying the cod.[3] For the visitor Homer, its value seems to have been in the striking combination of topography and light.

Although Homer rarely commented on his own art, he insisted that an artist should strive for “the truth of that which he wishes to represent,” which could be attained only by observing in “out-door light.”[4] As he elaborated: “Out-doors you have the sky overhead giving one light; then the reflected light from whatever reflects; then the direct light of the sun: so that, in the blending and suffusing of these several illuminations, there is no such thing as a line to be seen anywhere.”[5] A quick glance at Yacht in a Cove, Gloucester bears out his remarks; the haze of the sky and the broken reflections on the water make even the horizon line difficult to discern. A new subtlety is apparent in his handling of the watercolor, which he allows to puddle and soak the page, leaving behind clouds and slight movement of water’s surface that appear more as aqueous traces and stains rather than as deliberately painted forms. The boats and island receding toward the horizon along with the grassy sliver of land in the left foreground function as accents in a design rather than participating in a human narrative. In his later years, after he settled in Prout’s Neck, Maine Homer will distill his art down to the essence of land, sea, and sky, devoid of human figures. Here we have a foreshadowing of that later development: a picture that encourages the viewer to contemplate the seacoast in this protected cove, with the yacht sailing close to shore, in a moment of tranquil beauty.

Sotheby’s would like to thank Katherine Manthorne for writing the catalogue essay for the present lot.

Katherine Manthorne is a Professor at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

[1] James A. Craig, Fitz H. Lane: An Artist’s Voyage Through Nineteenth-Century America (Charleston, S.C.: The History Press, 2006), p. 88.

[2] J. Eastman Chase, “Some Recollections of Winslow Homer,” Harper’s Weekly 54 (Oct. 22, 1910): 13.

[3] Craig, pp. 88-91.

[4] George Sheldon, “Sketches and Studies II,” Art Journal (April 1880).

[5] Quoted in Cikovsky & Kelly, p. 395.