National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Right and Left Winslow Homer (artist)
American, 1836 - 1910
Right and Left, 1909
oil on canvas
overall: 71.8 x 122.9 cm (28 1/4 x 48 3/8 in.) framed: 105.4 x 156.8 x 10.2 cm (41 1/2 x 61 3/4 x 4 in.)
Gift of the Avalon Foundation
1951.8.1
Not on View
From the Tour: Homer and Eakins: American Painters in the Late 1800s
Object 8 of 8

Right and Left is the last major painting Homer completed and exhibited before his death. According to the artist’s first biographer, when the untitled canvas was shown by Homer’s dealer, “[A] sportsman came in, caught a glimpse of the picture, and at once cried out: ‘Right and left!’—admiring…the skill of the hunter who could bring down a bird with each barrel of his double-barreled shotgun in quick succession. So the work was christened.”

The shotgun flashes in the distance are from a hunter standing in a boat. Contemporary reports indicate Homer hired a man to fire blank shots in his direction so he could observe the flare through the fog.

A naturalist, Homer may have derived inspiration from John James Audubon’s encyclopedic Birds of America. In 1836 Audubon had published a print, Golden-Eye Duck, showing two birds of this same species in similarly splayed postures. The severe shapes may also reveal an aesthetic influence from the bold patterns in Japanese woodblock prints.

An explosive, jagged energy interacts between the angular points in wings, bills, feet, and waves. The gray morning’s chilly colors are punctuated by the birds’ yellow feet and eyes, the gun blast, and a sliver of the rising sun. Whether the ducks are darting to escape or already have been hit, the work is a stark metaphor of life and death.

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