Although Winslow 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”(as quoted in George Sheldon, “Sketches and Studies II,” Art Journal, April 1880, n.p.). 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" (as quoted in Nicolai Cikovsky and Franklin Kelly, Winslow Homer, New Haven, Connecticut, 1995, p. 395). 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.
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