Not for Homer Simpson; and not the ancient Greek Homer who gave us the banes of every high school student, the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Today we’re talking about the foremost American artist of the nineteenth century, Winslow Homer (1836-1910), especially known for his sea paintings.
He grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, painting watercolors with his mother. At age 19, Homer began a two-year apprenticeship to a Boston lithographer, making sheet-music covers and other commercial prints. For the next twenty years, he worked as a freelance illustrator, creating engravings of social gatherings for popular magazines. Meanwhile, he studied at the National Academy of Design, and took lessons in oil painting from Frederic Rondel.
Harper’s Weekly commissioned him to go to the front lines of the American Civil War, where he sketched scenes of camp life and battles, and also scenes of the women at home and how the war impacted their lives. Back home again, he painted a series of oil paintings based on his sketches.
In 1867, he traveled to Paris for a year, where he painted scenes of peasant life. He ignored the Impressionist movement of the time, preferring to hone his own style. Upon his return to the States, his artistic subjects included farm life, children at play, and young adults courting. In 1875, he quit his illustration work, determined to earn his living with his paintings and watercolors.
In the late 1870s, Homer moved to Gloucester and became something of a recluse. Living near the shore reignited his love of the sea, which he captured on canvas in all its variations of weather conditions, along with the fisherman who daily braved the waves.
Homer spent 1881-82 in Cullercoats, Northumberland, on the British coast. There he painted working men and women, and his style shifted and matured. His palette grew more somber; his scale grew larger.
In 1883, Homer moved to Prout’s Neck, Maine, where he lived in a remodeled carriage house just 75 feet from the Atlantic. There is where he painted his major seascapes. In 1884 and 1885, he wintered in places like Florida, Bermuda, and the Bahamas and painted Caribbean scenes in watercolor for Century Magazine.
Homer painted through the 1890s. It’s clear that he took his own advice that he offered to other painters: “Look at nature, work independently, and solve your own problems.”