Winslow Homer (artist)|
American, 1836 - 1910
Breezing Up (A Fair Wind), 1873-1876
oil on canvas
overall: 61.5 x 97 cm (24 3/16 x 38 3/16 in.) framed: 90.5 x 126.4 cm (35 5/8 x 49 3/4 in.)
Gift of the W. L. and May T. Mellon Foundation
Object 6 of 8
The sea, which would dominate Homer’s late work, began to assume a role in his paintings as early as 1873, when he summered at Gloucester, Massachusetts. Here, a catboat bearing the name Gloucester turns toward home in late afternoon, the day’s catch of fish stowed in its cockpit. A brisk breeze raises whitecaps, fills the mainsail, and heels the boat over until its port rail is awash. Counteracting the wind, a fisherman and three boys throw their weight to the starboard side. On the horizon, a gull circles over a two-masted schooner.
The apparent spontaneity bears out Homer’s statement, “I try to paint truthfully what I see, and make no calculations.” In actual practice, however, Homer did carefully calculate his compositions, including this one. The oil painting, exhibited to popular and critical acclaim in 1876, began with a watercolor study probably done on the spot three years earlier in Gloucester harbor.
Comparison with the initial watercolor and laboratory examination of this final oil reveal many changes in design. Originally, the tiller was guided by the old man instead of a boy. A fourth boy once sat in the place now occupied by the anchor, a symbol of hope. Because in 1876 the United States was celebrating its centennial as a nation, Homer may have made these alterations to suggest the promise of America’s youth.
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