Winslow Homer concluded the cheerful watercolor painting entitled Children on the Fence in 1874, which was during the final period of the Reconstruction. During this time, the American Civil War came to an end, and the country was devastated, with many deaths. Because of the nation’s new hope for a better future, many artists and writers would include children in their work. There was a nostalgic feeling linked to children that reminded people of a simpler time before the War brought economic and social disruption to the country. In the early 1870s, Homer depicted many children in rural settings, as he embraced this concept.
The artist had a connection to the subjects of the Civil War, as he worked as a field artist, portraying what he saw during this tense period in American history. His interest in social matters continued post-war, as he returned to Virginia to observe and depict the lives of former slaves and how it may or may not have changed. During this time, Homer’s primary medium was oil paint, but he began to experiment with watercolors and quickly mastered the craft.
Before painting Children on the Fence, Homer made a monochromatic drawing as a study, working out how the figures relate with one another and how the light and shadow could play upon them. The artist used graphite and white pencil on gray paper to sketch out a scene of four children sitting on the fence, possibly done by observing real kids on location. Although the drawing was done a previous image for the final watercolor, Homer would change his work while experimenting in the studio – ultimately creating a different final version of the painting.
The painting Children on the Fence shows the same four figure of the first sketch, with little change in their position. He changes the overall composition, the way the kids are highlighted, and the use of color. In the forefront, a fence reaches both sides of the canvas while three children sit to the left – the girl in the middle stands out in her red dress, while the other two wear mainly white. To the right, a boy sits alone wearing a hat and dark clothing. Behind them, there is a golden-ochre field of wheat, and many large barn houses, as well as towering trees in the distance.
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