Lot 52
  • 52

WINSLOW HOMER | The Life Brigade

1,500,000 - 2,500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Winslow Homer
  • The Life Brigade
  • signed Winslow Homer and dated 1883 (lower right)
  • watercolor and pencil on paper
  • 21 1/4 by 29 1/2 inches
  • (54 by 74.9 cm)


[With]Doll & Richards, Boston, Massachusetts, 1883
Charles Head, Boston, Massachusetts, 1883 (acquired from the above) 
Margaret Head Stockton, by 1938 (his daughter, by descent)
Acquired by the present owners from the above


Boston, Massachusetts, Doll & Richards, December 1883, no. 50 


"Fine Arts: New Works in the Studios of Our Painters and Sculptors," New York Herald, February 25, 1883, n.p.
"The Studio: Boston Items," Art Interchange II, December 16, 1883, p. 145
William Howe Downes, The Life and Works of Winslow Homer, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1989, p. 103
Lloyd Goodrich and Abigail Booth Gerdts, Record of Works by Winslow Homer: 1883 Through 1889, vol. IV.2, New York, 2012, no. 1177, p. 232, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Winslow Homer executed The Life Brigade in 1883, nearly two years after he left New York for England on a trip that was scheduled to last only a few months. After a short stop in London, he settled in the small fishing village of Cullercoats on the northeastern coast of England. Though Homer began to work in watercolor a decade before, his sojourn in England instigated a pivotal change in his technique and subject matter. The time the artist spent in Cullercoats was particularly transformative. As Lloyd Goodrich explains, “In every way the Tynemouth experience marked a turning point in Homer’s career. It brought [Homer] into close contact with the sea, henceforth his dominant theme. It witnessed a phenomenal maturing in mind and vision. It resulted in a long step forward in technical mastery. It brought him his greatest acclaim and his most solid financial rewards up to that time. And it settled in his mind the kind of life he wanted to lead and the kind of art he wanted to produce” (Winslow Homer, New York, 1944, p. 82).

The Life Brigade displays the new handling and consideration of the watercolor medium that Homer adopted while living abroad in this depiction of a group of fishermen huddled together in the midst of a fierce storm. Looking out to sea on the cliffs at Tynemouth, the motley crew dressed in mismatched oilskins is met with ferocious wind, waves and salty spray crashing at the breakers before them. The men appear almost helpless against the elements and the watercolor captures the rugged beauty of the remote environment, where essentially every aspect of life was governed by the weather and the sea. As such, Homer often portrayed figures reckoning with the powerful, active forces of nature in this period and strove to emphasize the tempestuous atmospheric effects he likely experienced as he lived and worked in Cullercoats. Homer’s mastery of watercolor is evident as he varies the application and intensity of the wash to illustrate the various textures of the ocean, the stalwart building, and the protagonists of the scene, the fishermen. The figures are accentuated by a heavier application of the medium, providing weight and depth to the composition. As Lloyd Goodrich further explained, “[Homer's] swift, skillful draftsmanship, learned in years of illustrating, had full scope in watercolor. The combined freshness and sureness of his watercolor handling anticipated the later development of his painting style” (Winslow Homer, New York, 1959, p. 20).

Homer continued to depict the perils of sea after leaving England and throughout the remainder of his career, particularly during his time spent in Prouts Neck, Maine. It is there that he completed The Life Line (Fig. 1), an 1884 oil painting of the dangerous rescue during a harrowing storm. Foreshadowing the likely fate of the fishermen in The Life Brigade, The Life Line depicts a daring rescue at sea in the midst of a turbulent storm. This timeless struggle between man and nature is clearly captured in this manifestation of valor and selflessness in the face of the unknown.