Winslow Homer first visited Prouts Neck in 1875. In 1883, his oldest brother Charles purchased the water side of the Neck with the hope of bringing the entire Homer family there and subdividing the property to create a summer resort. When the family learned that Winslow would be joining them on the Neck, they offered to construct a painting room at the rear of “the Ark,” the family home. Homer, who relished his solitude and independence, instead requested that the carriage house located near the main house be converted into a studio.
Although conversion of the carriage house required only basic additions, the Homer family sought a professional architect. In 1883, the family engaged John Calvin Stevens (1855–1940), a Portland native now regarded as one of the founders of the Shingle Style. Stevens moved the carriage house 100 feet east of the Ark and constructed a monumental viewing porch, or “piazza,” on the second floor, facing the sea. Though modest in size and unpretentious in its decoration, the Studio was exactly what Homer wanted: a place of solitude and inspiration where he could focus his creative energies.
Homer prized the peace and privacy that enveloped Prouts Neck after the summer residents departed, and he enjoyed the panoramic drama of the changing seasons. From his piazza and the rocks below, Homer pursued his obsession with the remarkable light of Maine, the endless variations in the weather, and the visual effects of waves as they struck the ledges and cliffs. As the early Homer biographer William Downes stated, “Living at his studio allowed Homer to have a perpetual tête-à-tête with the ocean which beat upon the great ledges almost at his door. His moving there was to signal the creation of the most important sea pieces of his career.”
During the two-and-a-half decades he spent at Prouts Neck, Homer created a series of paintings that are national treasures, including The Fog Warning (1885, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Lost on the Grand Banks (1886, collection of Bill and Melinda Gates), Undertow (1886, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute), Fox Hunt (1893, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts), Weatherbeaten (1894, Portland Museum of Art), The Artist’s Studio in an Afternoon Fog (1894, Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester), The Gulf Stream (1899, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), and Right and Left (1909, National Gallery of Art)—all masterpieces that established him as one of the most significant artists in American history.
Homer’s immersion in the environment of Prouts Neck produced images of the surf-battered coast that are the greatest in his career. These uninhabited images of crashing waves and rocks, alternately brooding and ecstatic, transformed the marine painting tradition with their emphatically humanistic vantage point and exploration of struggle and survival.
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