Book 1: Winslow Homer From Poetry to Fiction – The Engraved Works, Illuminated with Period Photographs
Hardcover, 416 pages: Includes a Postscript; illuminated period photographs that relate to Homer’s work;
color reproductions of paintings, watercolors, prints and drawings; 8 chapters with scholarly essays; 480 color and black and white illustrations with an interpretive, fully illustrated checklist and notes.
BOOK TRADE DISCOUNTS:
3 books per box
33% off with a minimum purchase of 3 books – USE CODE H1-33
40% off with a minimum purchase of 9 books – USE CODE H1-40
Book 2: Winslow Homer From Poetry to Fiction – The Engraved Works, An Illustrated Checklist with Interpretive Notes
Hardcover, 164 pages: Includes the same Postscript
as in Book I; fully illustrated checklist with interpretive
notes; Preface and 247 black and white illustrations
BOOK TRADE DISCOUNTS:
5 books per box
33% off with a minimum purchase of 5 books – USE CODE H2-33
40% off with a minimum purchase of 15 books – USE CODE H2-40
“Thank you so much for sharing your book with me. It is a masterpiece, not only in its presentation but the way you have crafted a comprehensive context, giving the reader the full environs of what might otherwise have been Winslow Homer’s rather narrow life, which is in contrast to the magnitude of his art, his visual documentary, and his contribution to the American art identity. The era costumes and photography allow the reader to connect with the very sights that inspired Winslow Homer’s earthy subjects. Brilliant.”
– Terri Lynn Martin, Getty Research Institute
“I am immensely impressed with the content and reach of this book: Winslow Homer From Poetry to Fiction—The Engraved Works.
This is an amazing undertaking of provocative thinking and research on the early work of Winslow Homer, with a writing style that is refreshing, clear and vivid.”
– Ed Ames, Beverly Hills, CA
Steven L. Brezzo
For all of his popularity and extraordinary ability, America’s most beloved artist of the nineteenth century left few clues about his life and his work. There have been scarcely any attempts to create a ‘journal of life’ when it comes to Winslow Homer. One of the difficulties for those who would write about him is that he closely guarded his privacy and never granted an interview to anyone. Not even the few letters that have survived, written to family members, provide any insight into his thoughts when it came to personal matters. There has never been a successful biography written about him. Surprisingly, historians know more about the life and works of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Titian than they do of Homer. The absence of information does not only apply to Homer’s biography, but many of his works of art are also not well explained—some were left untitled, undated or without identity of any sort.
Winslow Homer From Poetry to Fiction - The Engraved Works is a bold approach to piece together some of the missing information about Homer and his art. It is not an attempt to serve as a biography, but instead places special emphasis upon certain aspects of the artist’s life and work that previous writers have failed to consider. While it does not explain all of his art, it does illuminate many uncharted areas of Homer’s life and inspires deeper thought about his art, leading to a new understanding and appreciation of the work of one of America’s greatest artists. In many cases, it corrects the record where correction is needed. It also draws the reader in from the very beginning with remarkable images like the tintype of six boys on the book jacket. They closely mirror the youths engaged in the schoolyard game that Homer depicted in the wood engraving “Snap-the-Whip” and the two paintings that he made of the same subject. The discovery of the image of the country schoolboys is astounding because it falls outside of what people considered possible. It is a prelude of what the entire book is about: breaking new ground when it comes to Winslow Homer.
Never before has Winslow Homer’s story been told with such drama, clarity and accuracy. Though Homer’s personal story may lack a dramatic narrative, there are clues to understand his life and art. When it comes to Homer’s early wood engravings, his subjects need to be understood in terms of what he observed and the way he saw the world. The majority of his wood engravings were produced when he was still a young man in his twenties and early thirties. Homer had a natural talent that most agree showed strong conviction of character. Not only could he observe events, he sought to animate the liveliness of the action taking place. No other artist in his time demonstrated as much skill. He seemed to know by instinct what made a scene come to life. For nearly eighteen years, Homer worked each day at drawing his subjects in monochromatic tones. It was not until the early and mid-1860s that he began working with color pigments with any regularity. His first serious paintings are of Civil War subjects and soon to follow was his croquet series.
The turning point for Homer came in the early 1870s, when he found the quintessential theme and subjects in the rural countryside of Hurley, New York. This is where he found his subject for Snap the Whip, Homer’s two oil paintings dated 1872. It is this period in Homer’s life that becomes the central focus of the book, with the case being made that his schoolhouse subject depicted in Snap the Whip is the true foundation of an American genre that forged a national identity in the fine arts. New discoveries related to the schoolhouse and several previously unknown details are
also revealed with equal intrigue.
Homer’s 1869 wood engraving, The Playmates, is the frontispiece in the book. The image was made for John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “My Playmate” and serves to expose one of the chief aims of the book, that Homer also illustrated music sheet covers [ballads] and poetry. Homer was not just an illustrator for the pictorial press. He was equally active in making wood engravings for leading poets of the day, including William Cullen Bryant, James Russell Lowell, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Each chapter or section of the book begins with an introductory statement telling the reader what to expect. The first statement begins with the admission that there have been many books and exhibitions based on the subjects of Winslow Homer, and concluding that this one is different. Its purpose and aspiration is clearly stated: “to examine and interpret the illustrations and to breathe life into the works for a deeper understanding and appreciation.” It achieves precisely that and much more. The book provides the reader with a unique experience as they begin to read the unfolding story of Winslow Homer’s chronicle of daily activity as the words and illustrations bring it to life.
The story is focused on the first one-third of Homer’s artistic career, from 1856 to 1875, and examines his transition from illustrator for the pictorial press to fine artist as a painter. The chapters are beautifully illustrated with images of wood engravings, period costumes, drawings, oil paintings and watercolors from American museum collections. Also included are unique period photographs, mostly tintypes and prints from glass negatives, many of which have never before been published or exhibited. Some engraved works by Homer are juxtaposed with images by other artists as well as period photographs. Some portions of the book examine nineteenth century society, fashion, literature, farm life and war.
There are definitely some unique features in this story that are unlike most museum structured fine art books. The story begins with a look at life in New England, mostly in Boston and Cambridge, as well as the rural countryside, and provides a base of how daily life was for the common man in the 1850s. Many of the illustrated works include activities such as family and holiday celebrations, academic life at Harvard College, winter scenes of people ice skating and sleighing, social events, and activities on Boston Common.
During the war years, Harper’s Weekly engaged the then twenty-five-year-old artist to make illustrations that provided a glimpse of ‘behind the scenes’ activities of the men in camp and in bivouac. In some cases, Homer also illustrated activities closer to home, such as assembly meetings at Union Square in New York, assembly gatherings in public halls, as well as benefit events in Manhattan and Brooklyn that showed support for the men in the military. Homer made sketches of parades, soldiers on leave for brief home visits and volunteer-sponsored events on the home front. All of the illustrations are richly detailed with information to make the scenes more enjoyable to appreciate and understand.
One large illustration centers on fashions of the day, juxtaposed with beautiful color photographs of costumes from the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Kent State University Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The illustration tells of a little known historic event long forgotten in today’s school lessons. The Great Russian Ball at the Academy of Music, November 5, 1863, tells of a time during the Civil War when the Emperor Napoleon of France wanted the United Kingdom of Great Britain to join French forces in support of the Confederacy and to recognize the Confederacy as a sovereign nation independent of the northern states in America. When Russian Tsar Alexander learned of Napoleon’s plan, he immediately sent the Russian Imperial fleet to New York and San Francisco as a show of force in support of the Union. The Tsar ordered his admirals that if they found themselves in conflict with their common enemy, they should defend the Union and place themselves under the command of President Lincoln.
Throughout the book, there are several isolated stories that relate to Homer’s engravings and the events and conditions of a time when America was experiencing great change socially as well as economically. The book stays faithful to the content in the touring exhibition that began to travel nationwide following an inaugural opening at The Butler Institute of American Art in January 2017. The subthemes in the book conform to the substance of content in the exhibition. These includes Homer’s early works as an apprentice in Boston, his 1850s engravings for the pictorial press, the Civil War, his search for subject matter based on the American experience, and his early development in forging a national art genre for America.
The art of Winslow Homer first began to show dramatic change following his travel abroad to attend the 1867 Universal Exposition in Paris. The book does not dwell so much on the changes seen in his pallet as it does on his choice and search for new subject matter. There is an important discussion on the reason for this change that stems from the post-Civil War era to the search for a new genre that identifies with America’s future. Children become the primary source of his inspiration, but not exclusively. Homer continued making images of young women of his own age, but they were much different than the way he delineated their presence in earlier works. Gone are the images that were intended to be primarily visual in creating scenes or describing an event. He was now creating works of art that are to be appreciated primarily, or solely, for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content.
During this time, Homer committed to making subtle but important compositional adjustments. He was now in his mid-thirties, perhaps thinking of a future without ties to the pictorial press. Homer began to focus on more inspirational work and we see for the first time a hint of the painter to come.
Homer also began to concentrate on making works as part of a series. He completed a final painting in his croquet series and began to focus on schoolhouse subjects, farming activity, children’s games, storied adventures, and leisure time pursuits including day trips to the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Gloucester Harbor. Every page and paragraph of the book is filled with information, details and new findings, making the reader feel a part of the search for answers to unresolved issues. This is where the cover of the book comes to life and where answers to so many questions are found.
There are several pleasant surprises in the book right up to the very last pages. The author includes a bonus with the Postscript that supports and reveals new information never before realized in the documentation of Homer’s final wood engraving for the pictorial press in 1875. The identity of the subject and the close relationship of the Hurley town’s people to the one-room schoolhouse depicted in Homer’s iconic paintings Snap the Whip and wood engraving “Snap-the-Whip” are revealed.
The last chapter, “Eyewitness to History,” utilizes an unusual component when discussing or surveying the works of Winslow Homer. The method involves the use of photography in the time of the artist. The chapter juxtaposes tintype photo images with Homer’s engravings for the purpose of making comparisons and draws attention to the photographed subjects in the rural areas of Ulster County, New York, where Homer visited and worked much of his time between 1869 and 1877. The book then concludes with an extensive illustrated checklist with didactic interpretations of two hundred and thirty wood engravings and music sheet covers that date from 1856 to 1875.
For anyone who loves the work of Winslow Homer, this is a must-read that will take you on a journey like no other book that has previously touched on the subject. It is simply the most valuable and informative reference tool to Homer’s wood engravings and perhaps, more importantly, ties two art forms together—engraved illustrations and painting—in a way that explains how one supported the other and how both contributed to Homer’s success as a painter.
Mr. Brezzo is a former director of the San Diego Museum of Art and President of OPAR, Inc.,
Traveling Exhibition Development and Management, New York, NY.
Title: Winslow Homer From Poetry to Fiction – The Engraved Works
Author: Reilly Rhodes
Publisher: Contemporary and Modern Print Exhibitions
Content: 416 pages, 485 illustrations, 8 chapters
Release Date: June 15, 2017