Learn More About Winslow Homer

The PMA is uniquely positioned to explore the art and life of Winslow Homer with an art collection that encompasses significant works representing the range of media, subject matter, and periods in which he worked. His early career is represented by a nearly comprehensive collection of Homer’s graphic output that traces his early career as a commercial illustrator, as well as first professional oil painting,  Sharpshooter

 (1863). This Civil War-related painting exemplifies Homer’s profound talent as an astute observer of modern life in its exploration of how modern technology transformed warfare. The leisure and rural subjects that dominated his art during the late 1860s and 1870s are showcased in wood engravings, watercolors, and an oil painting. One of the masterpieces of the PMA collection, 

Weatherbeaten  (1894), which depicts waves crashing against the rocky shore of Prouts Neck, is a virtuouso demonstration of the aesthetic and metaphorical power of his Maine seascapes. Other late works include watercolors of Cullercoats women and of men hunting and fishing, as well as

Eight Bells , an example of Homer’s brief foray into etching while he lived at Prouts Neck. The PMA also has a special gallery devoted to the Homer Studio with art and artifacts, including his watercolor box, as well as information on the artist and the Studio restoration project.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest American artists of the 19th century, Winslow Homer (1836-1910) also has deep and deeply influential ties to Maine and the Portland Museum of Art. Indeed, the PMA is the “home” of Homer in several important regards: the museum has deep holdings of his works spanning his entire career and it operates the Winslow Homer Studio, a landmark building perched on the rocky coast of Maine in which the artist resided from 1884 until his death.

Born in Boston, Homer began his artistic career in the late 1850s with an apprenticeship in a Boston lithography shop and then as a freelance illustrator working in New York City for popular magazines, such as Harper’s Weekly . He quickly came to national attention for closely observed and perceptive images of modern American life, particularly his Civil War subjects that explore the experiences of rank-and-file soldiers in the Union army and the broader social impact of the sectional conflict. While continuing to produce commercial illustrations until 1875, Homer increasingly concentrated his efforts on oil painting and watercolor. His paintings of contemporary life—including images of the Civil War, rural children, fashionable women, and modern leisure pursuits (such as croquet, hiking, and hunting)—as well as his loosely painted realistic style earned Homer critical acclaim as one of the nation’s most progressive and original artists.

In 1884, shortly after returning from an 18-month sojourn in the English fishing village of Cullercoats, where he painted the daily hardships of local fishermen and women, Homer moved from New York City to Prouts Neck, a small peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic about 12 miles south of Portland. Inspired by the raw beauty of the Maine coast, Homer’s art changed dramatically in theme and mood. He created monumental marine narratives and seascapes that investigate humankind’s life-and-death struggles against the sea and the elemental power of nature. Painted with vigorous brushwork and closely observed realism, these late paintings capture the titanic force of waves crashing against the rocky shore in varying seasons and climactic conditions. Homer’s Maine pictures influenced generations of artists and transformed marine painting in the United States. Highly acclaimed during his lifetime, they continue to be considered among the greatest masterpieces of American art.

Homer’s Works at the PMA

The PMA is uniquely positioned to explore the art and life of Winslow Homer with an art collection that encompasses significant works representing the range of media, subject matter, and periods in which he worked. His early career is represented by a nearly comprehensive collection of Homer’s graphic output that traces his early career as a commercial illustrator, as well as first professional oil painting, Sharpshooter (1863). This Civil War-related painting exemplifies Homer’s profound talent as an astute observer of modern life in its exploration of how modern technology transformed warfare. The leisure and rural subjects that dominated his art during the late 1860s and 1870s are showcased in wood engravings, watercolors, and an oil painting. One of the masterpieces of the PMA collection, Weatherbeaten (1894), which depicts waves crashing against the rocky shore of Prouts Neck, is a virtuouso demonstration of the aesthetic and metaphorical power of his Maine seascapes. Other late works include watercolors of Cullercoats women and of men hunting and fishing, as well as Eight Bells, an example of Homer’s brief foray into etching while he lived at Prouts Neck. The PMA also has a special gallery devoted to the Homer Studio with art and artifacts, including his watercolor box, as well as information on the artist and the Studio restoration project.

Artwork

Homer's Life & Facts

1836
Winslow Homer is born on February 24 in Boston.
1842
The Homer family moves to Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1854
Homer becomes an apprentice at the lithography shop of John H. Bufford in Boston.
1857
Twenty-one-year-old Homer finishes his apprenticeship and seeks work as a freelance illustrator, eventually becoming a regular contributor to the magazine Harper’s Weekly in New York. Begins developing the engraving style—clean, with sharp contrasts of light and dark—he will use to great effect throughout his career.
1859
Moves to New York City.
1891-1864
During the Civil War, makes several trips to the Virginia front, capturing scenes of battle and daily camp life for Harper’s.
1863
Completes Sharpshooter, an important early work and his first professional oil painting (in the collection of the Portland Museum of Art).
1865
Elected to the National Academy of Design, New York.
1866
Sails to Paris in December, where he spends a year studying and painting.
1870
Makes his first trip to the Adirondacks, where he will return 19 times and produce numerous paintings, drawings, watercolors, and wood engravings.
1873
Begins working seriously in watercolor (a medium that will become extremely important to him).
1875
Visits Prouts Neck, Maine (where his newlywed brother is honeymooning) for the first time.
1881-1882
Spends almost two years in the fishing village of Cullercoats, England, where he concentrates on painting large-scale scenes of the sea, its fishermen, and their families.
1883
Homer’s father and brother purchase almost all of Prouts Neck. Homer settles there, where he will remain until his death in 1910, continuing to work in both oils and watercolor.
1884
Work is completed on Homer’s Prouts Neck studio, renovated by architect John Calvin Stevens.
1885
Homer travels with family and paints in the Bahamas, Cuba, Florida, and New York.
1893
Exhibits at the Portland Society of Art (later to become the Portland Museum of Art) for the first time, showing his oil painting Signal of Distress. Visits Quebec for the first time and exhibits at the Chicago World’s Fair.
1894
Weatherbeaten painted (view of rocky coast line at Prouts Neck now in the collection of the Portland Museum of Art).
1908
Writes to his sister-in-law from Prouts Neck, “All is lovely outside my house and inside of my house and myself.”
1910
Homer dies in his studio at Prouts Neck, with both his brothers present.
1966
The Winslow Homer Studio is designated a National Historic Landmark.
1977
Charles Shipman Payson gives his collection of 17 Winslow Homer paintings to the Portland Museum of Art.
1991
The Homer Graphics Collection, containing nearly 400 examples of Homer’s work as an illustrator, is given to the museum by Peggy and Harold Osher.
1992
Sharpshooter, Homer’s first major oil painting, is given to the PMA by Barbro and Bernard Osher.
2002
The Homer Gallery opens as part of the PMA’s restored L.D.M. Sweat Memorial Galleries.
2006
January 31: Acquisition of the Winslow Homer Studio by the Portland Museum of Art
2009
Dory Homer (Dories Piper Homer), the second wife of Charles Lowell Homer (Charles (Chip) Homer Willauer’s grandfather), dies March 7 at Piper Shores.
2010
PMA showcases the museum’s collection on Winslow Homer works in the exhibition Winslow Homer and the Poetics of Place, on view June 5 through September 6.
2012
September 25, PMA opens the restored Studio to the public for the first time.
2013
February 14, Charles “Chip” Homer Willauer dies and his funeral is held on Winslow Homer’s birthday, February 24.