Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery

Canajoharie, NY



Winslow Homer Watercolors at Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery


The Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery will hold its annual exhibit Winslow Homer Watercolors opening Sunday, February 25, 2001 from 1 to 4 PM. The exhibit will include 19 of the 21 paintings by the artist owned by the Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery.

The paintings will remain on display at the museum through March 15, 2001. The exhibit has opened on the Sunday closest to the artist's birth date and continues for three weeks, allowing the museum to both make the collection accessible to the public yet limit the amount of exposure to light. Watercolors are highly sensitive to this sort of exposure and can fade if exhibited for longer periods of time.

Fourteen of the museum's fifteen watercolors will be on display this year, with one oil and one watercolor on loan to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, as part of a major exhibit entitled Winslow Homer in the 1870s. Over 70 of the artist's paintings will be included in this exhibit, which travels from Kansas City to Los Angeles and Atlanta. Because of the show, fewer opportunities to see works by this artist will be seen in the north east.

Included in this year's exhibit will be six oils, including Watching the Breakers: A High Seas, 1896, The Rooster (c. 1872), Boy in the Barnyard (circa 1874), In Front of the Guard House (1863), Shepherdess and Sheep (1878), and Girl at the Fence (1878).

The watercolors included in this year's exhibit are Moonlight (1875), The See Saw (1873), Boy on the Rocks (1873), Homework (1874), On the Battenkill, Arlington, Vermont, The Homecoming (1883), The Pumpkin Patch (1878), Sailing Out of Gloucester (1880), At Tampa (1885), Woman on the Beach, Marshfield (1874), On the Cliff (1881), Above the Sea (1882), and Sponge Fishing, the Bahamas (1885). These paintings represent all of the areas where Homer painted during his lifetime, except for Quebec and the Adirondacks.

The Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery obtained its collection of Homer paintings during the 1920s, 30s and 40s, as donations from local industrialist, Bartlett Arkell, the first president of Beech-Nut Packing Company. An avid art collector, Mr. Arkell bought most of his paintings from the MacBeth Gallery in New York.

Many of the paintings came to the museum from the Homer family, who consigned works to MacBeth prior to 1945. Included among these was a Civil War oil that Winslow's brother Arthur had bought to encourage his brother to continue painting. Month's later Winslow discovered the painting at his brother's house, and family tradition maintains that he was so angry that he would not speak to Arthur for weeks.

This year's exhibit will also include two lectures. The first to be held at 2 PM on February 25th is entitled Mr. Arkell's Places: Winslow Homer and other Painters of New York, New England and Abroad. The lecture given by Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery, Curator, James Crawford will look at paintings in the collection by Winslow Homer and other paintings acquired for the museum from the same areas.

The locations to be discussed will be Gloucester, Massachusetts, The Maine Coast, Florida, the Hudson River Valley, Boston and Southern Massachusetts, and Vermont. Other painter's whose work will be included will be Ogden Pleissner, Childe Hassam, John Sloan, Herbert Meyer, John Henry Twachtman, and Maurice Brazil Prendergast.

The second lecture will be on Saturday, March 3rd at 3:30 PM. Robert Demarest, a retired New Jersey publicist and author of a forthcoming book about his travels to and research about areas that Winslow Homer painted. The lecture Travels with Winslow will be free and the museum will be open from 3 to 5 that afternoon to view the exhibit.


Wall panel text from the exhibition

Winslow Homer's interest as a watercolor artist began when he was still a child. His mother was an illustrator of books on flowers and routinely used that media to produce her work. Skills family members related she taught to her son.

However, it was not until 1873 that Homer, by then established as a respected painter in oils, that Homer actually painted watercolors, which he intended to exhibit and sell.

At that time, he spent about half of the year 1873 in the fishing town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he was sent to produce magazine illustrations for Harper's Weekly. The watercolor paintings he produced as a result of this trip were exhibited in New York that year, marking his start as a painter in this media.

For most of the rest of his career, watercolors became an important part of his work. Many of his paintings of farms belonging to Lawson Valentine, a business partner of his brother, in Upstate New York were done in watercolor, easier to transport than the canvases, which he often completed in his studio.

The sites of Houghton Farm, Cullercoats in England, Florida, the Bahamas, Northern Quebec, Cuba and the Adirondacks all were captured with his bright, eccentric watercolors, full of life and light and character.

Both he and his rival for the title of best American watercolor artist, John Singer Sargent, both relied on exotic and inaccessible locations for their watercolors. Homer's lonely hunting camps and isolated tropical islands seemed as distant to the viewers of these watercolors as did Sargent's Italy. Viewers today may have been to the locations of the paintings of Winslow Homer, but we can not see them the way he did nor has anyone painted them with the skill and vision that he alone possessed.

A watercolor painting in the exhibition not illustrated here is Above the Sea, 1882, Near Tynemouth England, Arkell Hall Foundation Collection. In 1881, Winslow Homer sailed for England, where he would stay for about two years and paint mainly in watercolor. Unlike most Americans who visit Europe, he spent most of his time away from the major cities. Although he spent about a month in London, he eventually traveled to the village of Cullercoats on the English coast.

Between 1881 and 1883, Homer painted over 150 watercolors of local fisherman and their families.


Boy on the Rocks (1873) Gloucester, Massachusetts

Winslow Homer spent six months in 1873 at the fishing village of Gloucester, Massachusetts where he was on assignment to Harper's Magazine. It was here that he first began to produce watercolors intended not as studies for later works but as an art form in its own right. Many of these paintings and magazine illustrations were of the local children such as this boy who appears to be watching for the return of the fleet and perhaps looking for the boat his father worked on.

The See Saw (1873) Gloucester, Massachusetts

This work, like Boy on the Rocks, shows some of the local children in this fishing community. Although everything about this painting first suggests that the boys are simply at play, the fishing fleet is not far from sight. The choice of game, which enables the children to practice their balance, is also important. Some children worked on these boats at as young an age as 10, often having to climb the rigging and masts, to reach places that adults could not go. In 1873, over 300 people would die at sea during the fishing season.

The Pumpkin Patch (1878) Mountainville, New York

Painted at Houghton Farm, near West Point, this watercolor shows several boys at play, who should be helping with the farm chores. Homer was sympathetic to the needs of children to do more than work and often showed them fooling around when they ought to have been working.

Houghton Farm was a modern experimental farm run by Lawson Valentine, one of Homer's best patrons in the 1870s and the owner of a paint manufacturing firm, where the artist's older brother worked as a chemist. Later in life, Charles Homer, Jr. became a partner in Valentine and Co.


On the Cliff (1881) Tynemouth region of England

This work was probably completed by Homer not long after he arrived in Cullercoats, the lack of definition in drawing several of the children on this cliff is more typical of his style in the 1870s, prior to arriving in England. Over the next two years, Homer would spend more time in drawing the figures in his watercolors with clarity than he did either before or after this trip. It was likely that he saw the work of English watercolor artist Josef Israels in London and came to copy his work with figures.

Woman on the Beach, Marshfield (1874). Marshfield, Massachusetts

In the late 1860s and early 1870s, Winslow Homer appears to have visited his aunt and uncle who owned a home in Marshfield on more than one occasion. He appears to have liked the beach and used it in both oil and watercolor paintings started between 1872 and 1875. This watercolor features one of the figures seen in a larger painting entitled On the Beach, Three are Company but Two are None.

Moonlight (On the Beach, East Hampton, Long Island) (1874) East Hampton, Long Island

In the summer of 1874, Winslow Homer spent six weeks with several artist friends on the eastern end of Long Island. As a result of his trip, he painted at least three oils and two watercolors. Of these five works, this is the most powerful. Strongly illuminated although at night, it marks Homer's skill with the media to be able to create such a powerful nighttime drawing. The couple in this scene are the same as that seen In the Three's company oil. By waiting till night, they appear to have lost the "crowd."


On the Battenkill, Arlington Vermont (Circa 1895?) Arlington, Vermont

Winslow Homer never produced a watercolor or oil of the area near Arlington, Vermont, although this drawing would suggest that he was taken by its beauty. In the summer of 1895, he wrote to his brother that one could reach a fishing camp in Northern Quebec by rail, passing the very spot where this drawing was completed. It is likely that the artist stayed in Arlington at one of two hotels open in the late 1800s, and produced this drawing from the center of a local bridge not far from either of those hotels.


At Tampa (1885) Tampa, Florida

In the year 1883, Winslow Homer left his New York studio and moved to family property in Prout's Neck, Maine. Although he appears to have stayed all winter in 1883 and 1884, the next year he traveled south to escape the rough Maine winter. This watercolor was one of several he produced in Florida as part of the second of these trips. Although many of these watercolors that year were of the most famous tourist sights of that region, in this work, we can see his interest in using animals as the subjects of his paintings which would be used frequently in later years.


Sailing Out of Gloucester (1880) Gloucester, Massachusetts

Homecoming (1883) Tynemouth region of England

Sponge Fishing-The Bahamas (1885). Nassau, the Bahamas

In these three watercolors, we can see Homer's lifelong interest in the sea. What differs about these watercolors is the intensity of illumination, from the Dark Northern English winter to the Bright Tropical sun. The last two paintings show boats used for work or transport, while the first is a wealthy man's yacht, possibly owned by Jacob Astor.

Contraband (1875)

Homework (1875)

These two watercolors are part of a brief experiment that the artist undertook in the mid-1870s in the French style of watercolor portraiture. Although he may have seen the work of Vibert and Millet in Paris when he visited in the 1860s, it is most likely that he first saw this type of work in New York between 1873 and 1875. Both of these paintings, which were not used as magazine illustrations, were probably completed after his decision in 1875 to focus entirely on painting and abandon his career as an illustrator.

Read more about the Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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