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"  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."  They saw those qualities in the "delicacy and strength of emotion"  of Home, Sweet Home , its "real feeling"  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."  And they saw them in its modernity: It is "inspired by a fact of to-day." 
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. 
The title of Homer's painting evokes the "bitter moment of home-sickness and love-longing"  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)
lower right: W Homer
Possibly Samuel Putnam Avery, New York, possibly 1863 to 1867; (his sale, Leeds Art Galleries, New York, 4-5 February 1867, 2nd day, no. 59); Mrs. Alexander H. Shephard [or Shepherd], New York; (Howard Young Galleries, New York); (M. Knoedler & Co., New York), in 1918. George M.L. LaBranche, New York, by c. 1920, certainly by 1944 until at least 1950. (M. Knoedler & Co., New York), in 1954. Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Shaye, Detroit, by 1957; (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.
- Thirty-Eighth Annual Exhibition, National Academy of Design, New York, 1863, no. 371.
- Oils and Watercolors by Winslow Homer, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, October-November 1944, unnumbered checklist.
- Winslow Homer, Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts, November-December 1944, no. 1.
- American Processional: 1492-1900, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1950, no. 238.
- Winslow Homer: A Retrospective Exhibition, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1958-1959, no. 1, repro.
- A Retrospective Exhibition: Winslow Homer, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1959, no. 1, repro.
- The Civil War: The Artists' Record, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1961-1962, no. 37, repro.
- Yankee Painter: A Retrospective Exhibition of Oils, Watercolors and Graphics by Winslow Homer, The University of Arizona Art Gallery, Tucson, 1963, no. 124, repro.
- Winslow Homer. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Art Institute of Chicago, 1973, no. 1, repro.
- 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.
- 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.
- Winslow Homer and the Civil War: Recent Acquisitions. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1997, no cat.
- Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Winslow Homer in the National Gallery of Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2005-2006, unnumbered brochure.
- 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.
- The Civil War and American Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2012-2013, no. 52, repro.
- Curtis, G. W. "The Lounger/The National Academy of Design." Harper's Weekly 7 (2 May 1863): 274, no. 331.
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- Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Winslow Homer. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1911: XV.
- Downes, W. H. The Life and Works of Winslow Homer. Boston, 1911: 46, 47, 48-49, 276.
- Cox, Kenyon. Winslow Homer. New York, 1914: 17-18.
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- Goodrich, Lloyd. Winslow Homer. New York, 1944: 19, pl. 4.
- 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.
- Goodrich, Lloyd. Winslow Homer. New York, 1959: 114, pl. 2.
- Gardner, Albert Ten Eyck. Winslow Homer, American Artist: His World and His Work. New York, 1961: 16, 57, 77-78, 129, 255, repro.
- Flexner, James Thomas That Wilder Image: The Native School from Thomas Cole to Winslow Homer. New York, 1962: 279 (reprinted 1970).
- Flexner, James Thomas The World of Winslow Homer, 1836-1910. New York, 1966: 66, 67, 69-70, repro.
- Wilmerding, John. Winslow Homer. New York, 1972: 42.
- Goodrich, Lloyd. Winslow Homer. New York, 1973: 51, 134, repro.
- Grossman, J. Echo of a Distant Drum. 1974: 8, 127, color pl. 05, 198-199, note 57.
- Davis, M. D. Winslow Homer: An Annotated Bibliography of Periodical Literature. Metuchen, New Jersey, 1975: 15, 85, nos. 102 and 688.
- Hendricks, Gordon. The Life and Work of Winslow Homer. New York, 1975: 50, 65, 70 nn. 28 and 45.
- Cooper, Helen A. Winslow Homer Watercolors. New Haven, 1986: 17.
- Simpson, Marc. Winslow Homer Paintings of the Civil War. San Francisco, 1988: 142-147, no. 4, repro.
- 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.
- McLellan, Diana. "Really Big Shows." Washingtonian 33, no. 11 (August 1998): 70.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 320-321, no. 258, color repro.
- Goodrich, Lloyd, and Abigail Booth Gerdts. Record of Works by Winslow Homer, vol. 1. New York: Spanierman Gallery, 2005, no. 189.
- Benfy, Christopher. "Winslow Homer: The Stern Facts." The New York Review of Books 58, no. 5 (March 24, 2011): 8-9, color repro.
- Harvey, Eleanor Jones. "The Civil War and American Art." American Art Review 24, no. 6 (November-December 2012): 82, 84, color repro.
- 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.
- "Art for the Nation: The Story of the Patrons' Permanent Fund." National Gallery of Art Bulletin, no. 53 (Fall 2015): 14-15, repro.