Standing in the brilliant sunlight of midday, a young woman blows a metal horn to summon the farmhands in the nearby field to their noontime meal. Her feet rest at the end of a well-trod path, suggesting the repetitive nature of this task. A strong gust of wind blows across the foreground from the right, evidenced by Winslow Homer’s skillful depiction of the young woman’s raised, twisting skirt and floating dress strings. Only a narrow corner of the wooden structure to her left can be seen, revealing weathered wooden siding and the edge of a window frame. Thin vines studded with leaves and thorns climb the wall. Below, two potted plants and an overturned metal milk jug form a small still life.
Downhill from the wind-swept figure, a cluster of chickens and a cow are visible in the verdant middle ground. Further in the distance this grassy stretch turns golden brown, suggesting a field of harvested hay. On the far right edge of the field sits a domed haystack. A handful of men in bright shirts are at work nearby, one of whom maneuvers what appears to be a horse-drawn hay mower.
The Dinner Horn is the first in a series of works by Homer from the early 1870s that feature the trumpeting figure of a young woman. It is also an early example of the artist’s exploration of farming subjects. The work was first exhibited in 1871 under the title Blowing the Horn at Seaside.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I, which is available as a free PDF at https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/american-paintings-19th-century-part-1.pdf
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, and Abigail Booth Gerdts. Record of Works by Winslow Homer, vol. 2. New York: Spanierman Gallery, 2005, no. 368.
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.