In the first half of the early 1870s, Winslow Homer made a series of dinner-horn images, of which this painting is the first and—with its breezy freshness, brilliant light, and delicately subtle coloration—arguably the most beautiful. This work is closely related to The Dinner Horn engraving published in Harper's Weekly on June 11, 1870, and to the oil sketch of the same name (c.1870–1873, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) in which Homer considered the subject in a horizontal format. A fourth version, also titled The Dinner Horn (Detroit Institute of Arts), was finished in 1873 and depicts the woman standing in the same pose but in a darker dress and standing in a shaded porch.
As described in a later version of this scene, the woman is "a farmer’s daughter and maid of all work, just from the kitchen . . . blowing the dinner horn" (for the farm workers in the distant field), but her svelte figure, revealing dress, bit of petticoat, and touch of ankle make her the rural (though by no means rustic) inland counterpart of the bathing figures Homer also depicted at this time. As pentimenti now show, Homer greatly altered the painting by removing a tree that originally stood in the right foreground.
lower left: WINSLOW HOMER .1870.
Given by the artist to Charles Collins, New York state; by descent in the Collins family to Virginia Collins Cronister [Mrs. Hugh M. Cronister], Cambridge, Vermont; (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 23 April 1981, no. 50, bought in); (Nicholas Hubby, Boston); Richard A. Manoogian, Grosse Point, Michigan; (Vose Galleries, Boston); sold May 1985 to Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia; gift 1994 to NGA.
- Annual Exhibition, Century Association, New York, January 1871, as Blowing the Horn at Seaside, no. 2 on manuscript list (no cat.).
- Somerville Gallery, New York, February 1871, as The Dinner Horn.
- Winter Exhibition, National Academy of Design, New York, 1871-1872.
- Loan for display with permanent collection, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1974-1981.
- Winslow Homer. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1995-1996, no. 41, repro.
- An Enduring Legacy: Masterpieces from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1999-2000, no cat.
- Winslow Homer in the National Gallery of Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2005-2006, unnumbered brochure, fig. 2.
- Winslow Homer. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1995-1996: no. 41.
- Kelly, Franklin, with Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Deborah Chotner, and John Davis. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 301-305, color repro.
- Haltman, Kenneth. "Antipastoralism in Early Winslow Homer" in Art Bulletin, Vol. LXXX, No. 1. 1998: 102, repro. no. 19.
- Goodrich, Lloyd, edited and expanded by Abigail Booth Gerdts. Record of Works by Winslow Homer. 4 vols. New York, 2005: 2:no. 368, repro.
The support is a very fine, highly textured, plain-weave fabric. Although lined, the original tacking margins have been retained. The thin, yellowish-white ground layer was applied over the entire support except for a narrow, irregular border along part of the left tacking margin. Major contours were underdrawn in probably a dilute black paint. The horn was shortened at the underdrawing stage. The paint was applied in overlapping patchy strokes in the foliage and in long, smooth strokes in the meadow. A rougher texture was created in the foreground by dragging the paint across the fabric's prominent vertical threads. Four trees in the middle background, two on either side of the girl, were painted out by Homer. Several long tree branches were truncated as well during the painting sequence. These changes appear as pentimenti, except for the two trees on the left side of the girl which are fully visible only with infrared reflectography. The painting is in extremely good condition and the varnish has not discolored.