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The American painter Winslow Homer will forever be known as a national treasure for his love of nature’s overwhelming power. Born in February of 1836 in a rural village of Massachusetts, Boston, where he was delighted with the country life as a child. Homer’s father was a businessman, and his mother was a watercolor painter – both encouraged their son’s artistic career. He began to work with printmaking at the age of nineteen – more specifically stone print lithography – at the John Bufford firm in Boston, where he was an apprentice. This technique leads Homer to commercial illustration, where he was able to publish his drawings in magazines like Harper’s Weekly and Ballou’s Pictorial. In 1859, the artist decided to dedicate his career to working with freelance illustration, and thus moving to New York City, exhibiting paintings in the Nation Academy of Design only a year later.
In 1861, the American Civil War broke out, and Homer was sent to the battlefields as a combat artist – even though his view consisted more on the everyday life of the soldiers in the camp. During this period, the artist created drawings and etches of the military men, some of which he later concluded as oil paintings in his studio. His masterpiece Prisoners from the Front (1866) was a highly critical painting done after the war was over, and well received by the Academy. The work pointed out the apparent post-war tension between opposing sides, highlighting subjects like racism in America.
Homer loved the country-side, and this reflected in his early work, even though he lived in New York City. He would often travel to the Hudson River valley in Pennsylvania to come in contact with nature as he camped in the wilderness and registered rugged subjects like hunting and fishing in his drawings and watercolors. The artworks he produced during this period were mostly optimistic and portrayed the lighter side of life – like the iconic Snap the Whip (1872), and the happy marine Breezing up (1873-1876). In 1866, Homer traveled to Europe where he had contact with French Naturalism, Modern painters, as well as Japanese art – all considered to had little aesthetic impact on his paintings.
By the 1880s, Homer’s work and behavior took a different direction, becoming more antisocial and pessimist. The artist made a trip to a fishing port in the Cullercoats, in North East England at the age of 45, where he had direct contact with the harsh life of the fishers and their family. During about two years, Homer registered what he saw in paintings and sketches, directly impacting his artistic production. His optimistic view on life shifted, and his paintings focused more on nature’s strength and humankind’s battle for survival. In 1883, he moved to Proust’s Neck, where he had a studio and created his most breathtaking seascapes. Homer’s artwork became more powerful and meaningful as time passed. In 1893, the artist concluded one of his most iconic oil painting which is considered by many to be the best American artworks of all time, entitled Fox Hunt.