Monday, April 07, 2008

Winslow Homer - behind the scenes in Chicago

Incoming Tide, Scarboro, Maine (1883)
Winslow Homer
watercolor on paper

National Gallery of Art, Washington

This post is for all fans of watercolour and Winslow Homer (1836-1910), who was one of the artists who very nearly made it on to my list of artists to study in 2008 and is now on the shortlist for 2009. It started out as a post to highlight the great resources which can be found in the 'Behind the Scenes' part of the current exhibition of Winslow Homer watercolours in Chicago.

However it grew! It now covers:
  • a mass of links to resources which can be found on two art gallery websites,
  • a new 'Making A Mark Award' (to be awarded at the end of 2008); and
  • a new resources for art lovers site!
What can I say - I like Winslow Homer!

The two websites are:
Now where to start? There is just so much on both websites that it's quite overwhelming. I was very impressed about halfway through finding out all there is - and I suspect I've still got more to find judging on my experience to date!

Art Institute of Chicago - Watercolors by Winslow Homer - the Color of Light
Homer never received much formal artistic training. Instead, he learned to draw as an apprentice lithographer and then by working as an illustrator for the popular press. He taught himself to paint in oils in the 1860s, making a name for himself with striking portrayals of the Civil War. It was not until 1873, when he was thirty-seven year old, that he began to use watercolor for independent works of art. From that time, the medium played a central role in his artistic practice and he applied himself with great seriousness and deliberation to learning its secrets.
Winslow Homer: Behind the Scenes > Behind the Scenes > Background

Apple Picking (1878)
Winslow Homer
Opaque watercolor over graphite on medium weight, slightly textured, gray-green wove paper, altered to brown, laid down on board
7 x 8 3/8 in. (17.8 x 21.3 cm)

This is one for the forensically inclined amongst us! Links are as follows:
Many of the artist’s first Prout’s Neck watercolors explore the varied nature of the surf along the shore. The portability of his drawing and watercolor materials allowed him to seek out locations where the rocky shelves were bombarded by incoming waves. There is great variety in technique and coloration among these works; just as each storm, sunset, or wave is unique, so is each of Homer’s investigations. In its near abstraction and reliance on subtle color gradations, Prout's Neck, Evening suggests that Homer may have looked closely at both Japanese painting and the inking techniques used to produce 19th-century Japanese woodblock prints.
AIC - Winslow Homer exhibition - Prout's Neck theme
Take an in-depth and detailed look at Winslow Homer’s tools, techniques, and watercolors through the eyes of curators, researchers, conservators, and conservation scientists.
Exhibition introduction
  • Behind the Scenes - This is an absolutely fascinating project to look at the more technical aspects of Homer's watercolours. It looks in particular at how he used pigment and colour, graphite and subtractive techniques.
    • Homer's Locations - click on the marker and you can see lists of works associated with the location, including Cullercoats in north east England
  • The Resources section is in effect the site map for the monumental amount of information accessed via menus and sub-menus in the different parts of the exhibition. It can also be accessed from the menu for either aspect of the exhibition. Particular items of note include:
Winslow Homer in the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Over 240,000 people saw this exhibition in 239 days in 2005-06. Many more will have seen images from it since due to this web feature.

From the late 1850s until his death in 1910, Winslow Homer produced a body of work distinguished by its thoughtful expression and its independence from artistic conventions. A man of multiple talents, Homer excelled equally in the arts of illustration, oil painting, and watercolor. Many of his works—depictions of children at play and in school, of farm girls attending to their work, hunters and their prey—have become classic images of nineteenth-century American life. Others speak to more universal themes such as the primal relationship of man to nature.

Highlighting a wide and representative range of Homer's art, this Web feature traces his extraordinary career from the battlefields, farmland, and coastal villages of America, to the North Sea fishing village of Cullercoats, the rocky coast of Maine, the Adirondacks, and the Caribbean, offering viewers the opportunity to experience and appreciate the breadth of his remarkable artistic achievement........

A number of images in the Winslow Homer feature have been tagged with individual "zoom" buttons to faciliate in-context viewing, and thirty-five works are included in a high-resolution slideshow. Image enhancements and video clips require Flash, and browser "pop-up" windows must be enabled.
These are shortcuts to:

The Making A Mark Award for the best online website supporting an exhibition

Personally I think that the AIC site is one of the best exhibition resource websites that I've ever seen - EVER! It sets a standard and raises the bar. I don't think it's any reflection on the NGA to say that as the digital presentation of exhibition material online is improving all the time - and the chicago exhibition comes two years after that in Washington.

I think it's really great that some museums - like the AIC and the NGA - have actually grasped that there are absolutely huge numbers of people who make up an audience for their collections and exhibitions which goes far beyond those who actually manage to get through the doors. I know that not all museums have yet realised this - which is sad. In the meantime - three cheers for those that have!

Plus I know what makes me want to visit a museum is the amount of effort they put into communicating online. I know that if I have a great experience online then it can only be even better if I visit as well.

Well done AIC and NGA - you are now very definitely part of a small group at the top of my list of great museums I want to visit in the future.

In fact, I'm now minded to have an end of year Making A Mark Award for the best online website supporting an exhibition in 2008. Any other museum /exhibition is going to have do really well to beat the Winslow Homer exhibition in Chicago! It seems fairest if it's limited to sites relating to exhibitions in the year in question as these sites seem to keep getting better and better every year. I've set up a round-up post for December to make sure people can suggest any they've come across which are really good. Keep your eyes peeled!

Winslow Homer - Resources for Artists

This exhibition prompted me to start a site for my links relating to Winslow Homer which you can find at Winslow Homer - Resources for Art Lovers. This is very much a start - I'll be adding new links as I find them and will be using this site in 2009 when I'm expecting to study more about Winslow Homer. I've learned that I get much more out of the study if I start my research and homework well in advance!



  1. Katherine, thanks for highlighting these sites, lots here to enjoy and ponder. Homer is a favorite. Not sure I had known the Japanese connection before, but surely I should have guessed it!

  2. Oh, Winslow Homer is just fantastic! Did you see the exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery? "Winslow Homer: Poet of the Sea" last year maybe? year before? I lose track of these things. It was wonderful. First time I'd seen his work and I was hooked from the first room.

  3. Homer is one of my favorites as well, Katherine. Thank you so much for (your usual) well researched and informative post. I'll be back later to peruse this one at my leisure.

  4. I have had a library book open on my coffee table for the last week on a reproduction of Homer's 'Sunset, Proust's Neck' - I just love it, though haven't investigated his work much so far - so it's a delight to find this information, thank you.

  5. Bookmarked with enormous anticipation! Thank you, Katherine.

  6. Looks like there's going to be a lot of happy people around. I know there's quite a few watercolourists who read this blog - and reckoned that quite a number of them would particularly enjoy the contents of this thread.

    I found just looking at the images perked me up yesterday!


COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of the amount of spam and copying of my blog posts which is taking place. Removing them is taking too much time.
Please feel free to comment about the blog on my Facebook Page as my blog posts are always posted there but please note
1) anonymous comments are NEVER published
2) automated / spam / scam comments are never ever published on this blog
3) I ALWAYS block and report spammers to Google and/or on Facebook

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.