Eight Bells, one of Homer's best-known paintings and the last of the series of great sea pictures that had commenced with The Life Line three years earlier, was completed in 1886 but not shown until 1888. The title refers to the sounding of eight bells done at the hours of four, eight, and twelve a.m. and p.m. Two sailors dominate the foreground, but the details of the ship and its riggings have been minimized. In the etching above, one of his finest, Homer has de-emphasized the background rigging and sky even further to underscore the figures' monumentality.
Homer's depiction seems to transcend "mere realism" and reveal an element of heroism in the mundane activities of his protagonists. A contemporary critic noted that the artist "has caught the color and motion of the greenish waves, white-capped and rolling, the strength of the dark clouds broken with a rift of sunlight, and the sturdy, manly character of the sailors at the rail. In short, he has seen and told in a strong painter's manner what there was of beauty and interest in the scene."