Overview

The exhibition of Home, Sweet Home in the spring of 1863 auspiciously marked Winslow Homer's debut as a painter. The painting was enthusiastically admired. "Winslow Homer is one of those few young artists who make a decided impression of their power with their very first contributions," a critic observed. "He at this moment wields a better pencil, models better, colors better, than many" [1] more established artists.

Home, Sweet Home  was a remarkable technical achievement for someone, like Homer, who was largely self-taught. In this, one of his very first paintings, Homer's contemporaries were able not only to take clear measure of his large artistic gifts, but also to sense qualities of mind and character that were important parts of what one of them called the "promise of a worthy art future." [2] They saw those qualities in the "delicacy and strength of emotion" [3] of Home, Sweet Home , its "real feeling" [4] and lack of sentimentality. They saw them, too, in its directness, and in its intelligence: "There is no clap-trap about it. Whatever of force is in the picture is not the result of trickery, and is not merely surface work, not admitting of examination, but painstaking labor directed by thought." [5] And they saw them in its modernity: It is "inspired by a fact of to-day." [6]

Two union soldiers (infantrymen, as the insignia on their caps show) listen as the regimental band plays "Home, Sweet Home." In what might almost be a description of Homer's painting, and of the kind of experience Homer himself must have had when he visited the front in 1861 and 1862, the Union general Nelson A. Miles described an occurrence in the valley of the Rappahannock:

Late in the afternoon our bands were accustomed to play the most spirited martial and national airs, as "Columbia," "America," "E. Pluribus Unum," "The Star-spangled Banner," etc., to be answered along the Confederate lines by bands playing, with equal enthusiasm, "The Bonny Blue Flag," "Southern Rights," and "Dixie." These demonstrations frequently aroused the hostile sentiments of the two armies, yet the animosity disappeared when at the close some band would strike up that melody which comes nearest the hearts of all true men, "Home, Sweet Home," and every band within hearing would join in that sacred anthem with unbroken accord and enthusiasm. [7]

The title of Homer's painting evokes the "bitter moment of home-sickness and love-longing" [8] that the song inspired in the soldiers. The title also refers to the soldiers' "home," shown with all of its domestic details--a small pot on a smoky fire, a tin plate holding a single piece of hardtack--which Homer, who did the cooking and washing when he was at the front, knew intimately, and which, with surely intended irony, are very far from "sweet."

(Text by Nicolai Cikovsky Jr., published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation,  2000)

Inscription

lower right: W Homer

Marks and Labels

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Provenance

Possibly Samuel Putnam Avery, New York, possibly 1863 to 1867;[1] (his sale, Leeds Art Galleries, New York, 4-5 February 1867, 2nd day, no. 59);[2] Mrs. Alexander H. Shephard [or Shepherd], New York;[3] (Howard Young Galleries, New York); (M. Knoedler & Co., New York), in 1918.[4] George M.L. LaBranche, New York, by c. 1920, certainly by 1944 until at least 1950.[5] (M. Knoedler & Co., New York), in 1954.[6] Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Shaye, Detroit, by 1957;[7] (sale, Sotheby's, New York, 30 May 1984, no. 19, bought in); consigned 29 August 1984 to (Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York); sold 1 February 1985 to private collection; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, New York, 5 June 1997, no. 12); purchased by (Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York) for NGA.[8]

Exhibition History

1863
Thirty-Eighth Annual Exhibition, National Academy of Design, New York, 1863, no. 371.
1944
Oils and Watercolors by Winslow Homer, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, October-November 1944, unnumbered checklist.
1944
Winslow Homer, Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts, November-December 1944, no. 1.
1950
American Processional: 1492-1900, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1950, no. 238.
1958
Winslow Homer: A Retrospective Exhibition, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1958-1959, no. 1, repro.
1959
A Retrospective Exhibition: Winslow Homer, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1959, no. 1, repro.
1961
The Civil War: The Artists' Record, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1961-1962, no. 37, repro.
1963
Yankee Painter: A Retrospective Exhibition of Oils, Watercolors and Graphics by Winslow Homer, The University of Arizona Art Gallery, Tucson, 1963, no. 124, repro.
1973
Winslow Homer. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Art Institute of Chicago, 1973, no. 1, repro.
1974
The Painter's America: Rural and Urban Life, 1810-1910. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Oakland Museum, California, 1974-1975, no. 54, fig. 75.
1995
Winslow Homer, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1995-1996, no. 2, repro.
1997
Winslow Homer and the Civil War: Recent Acquisitions. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1997, no cat.
2000
Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
2005
Winslow Homer in the National Gallery of Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2005-2006, unnumbered brochure.
2007
Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation, National Art Museum of China, Beijing; Shanghai Museum; The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, 2007-2008, unnumbered catalogue, repro.

Bibliography

1863
Curtis, G. W. "The Lounger/The National Academy of Design." Harper's Weekly 7 (2 May 1863): 274, no. 331.
1866
Aldrich, T. B. "Among the Studios." Our Young Folks, July 1966.
1879
"American Painters: Winslow Homer and F. A. Bridgman." The Art Journal n.s. xviii (1879): 154.
1908
Mechlin, L. "Winslow Homer." International Studio XXXIV (June 1908): cxxvi, no. 136.
1910
Fitzgerald, P. "Winslow Homer/The Noted Artist is Dead." Philadelphia Item, October 1, 1910.
1910
"Winslow Homer Dies; Noted Marine Artist." Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, October 1, 1910.
1910
"Winslow Homer, Noted Artist, Dies." New York Herald, October 1, 1910.
1911
_Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Winslow Homer. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1911: XV.
1911
Downes, W. H. The Life and Works of Winslow Homer. Boston, 1911: 46, 47, 48-49, 276.
1914
Cox, Kenyon. Winslow Homer. New York, 1914: 17-18.
1932
Bolton, T. "The Art of Winslow Homer: An Estimate in 1932." The Fine Arts xviii (February 1932): 52, no. 3.
1944
Bolton, T. "Homer Revisited at the Whitney." Art News XLIII (October 1944): 17, no. 13, repro.
1944
Goodrich, Lloyd. Winslow Homer. New York, 1944: 19, pl. 4.
1958
Churchill, Winston. "The Noblest War: Part I, Vol. IV of a History of the English Speaking Peoples." Life XLIV (24 February 1958): 84, no. 8, repro.
1959
Goodrich, Lloyd. Winslow Homer. New York, 1959: 114, pl. 2.
1961
Gardner, A.T.E. Winslow Homer, American Artist: His World and His Work. New York, 1961: 16, 57, 77-78, 129, 255, repro.
1962
Flexner, James Thomas That Wilder Image: The Native School from Thomas Cole to Winslow Homer. New York, 1962: 279 (reprinted 1970).
1966
Flexner, James Thomas The World of Winslow Homer, 1836-1910. New York, 1966: 66, 67, 69-70, repro.
1972
Wilmerding, John. Winslow Homer. New York, 1972: 42.
1973
Goodrich, Lloyd. Winslow Homer. New York, 1973: 51, 134, repro.
1974
Grossman, J. Echo of a Distant Drum. 1974: 8, 127, color pl. 05, 198-199, note 57.
1975
Davis, M. D. Winslow Homer: An Annotated Bibliography of Periodical Literature. Metuchen, New Jersey, 1975: 15, 85, nos. 102 and 688.
1979
Hendricks, Gordon. The Life and Work of Winslow Homer. New York, 1975: 50, 65, 70 nn. 28 and 45.
1986
Cooper, Helen A. Winslow Homer Watercolors. New Haven, 1986: 17.
1988
Simpson, Marc. Winslow Homer Paintings of the Civil War. San Francisco, 1988: 142-147, no. 4, repro.
1995
_Winslow Homer. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1995-1996: no. 2.
1998
McLellan, Diana. "Really Big Shows." Washingtonian 33, no. 11 (August 1998): 70.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 320-321, no. 258, color repro.
2005
Goodrich, Lloyd, edited and expanded by Abigail Booth Gerdts. Record of Works by Winslow Homer. 4 vols. New York, 2005: 1:no. 189, repro.
2011
Benfy, Christopher. "Winslow Homer: The Stern Facts." The New York Review of Books 58, no. 5 (March 24, 2011): 8-9, color repro.
2012
Harvey, Eleanor Jones. "The Civil War and American Art." American Art Review 24, no. 6 (November-December 2012): 82, 84, color repro.
2013
Johnson, Ken. “When Painters Showed the War in More than Blue and Gray.” New York Times 162, no. 56,153 (May 31, 2013): C-27, color repro.

Technical Summary

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