Winslow Homer (1836-1910) was the most influential American painter of the second half of the 19th century. His painting style is typically American, both modern and rustic. Along with Thoreau, Melville, Whitman and other literary masters, Homer occupies a very important place in the history of American art.
Winslow Homer was born in Boston, the USA, on February 24, 1836, into a middle-class family. His father, an ordinary merchant, and his mother, a talented amateur watercolorist, and his initiation teacher gave Homer an artistic environment from an early age. He worked as a lithographer as a young boy and later received formal art education at the National Academy of Design in New York. In 1857 Homer launched his career as a commercial lithographer, but he was not satisfied. In the fall of 1859, Homer moved from Boston to New York to attend the National Academy of Design, where he also studied oil painting with Frédéric Rondel and understood that art was to bring pleasure, delight and beauty to people. He understood that, more importantly, art was to convey ideas, tell people the truth of life, and give them the courage and strength to live.
In the spring of 1861, Homer began studying oil painting. In October of that year, he was sent to the front lines of the American Civil War as an emerging artist-reporter to provide illustrations for the newly created Harper's Weekly. Then he found his painting subjects in the popular seaside resorts of Massachusetts and New Jersey and the Adirondacks in rural New York State. He focused his paintings on women in their free time, children at play, or his own problems. Over the next ten years, Homer began creating watercolor paintings in addition to strengthening his mastery of oil painting. The success of his watercolors led him to give up his job as a freelance illustrator in 1875.
As he entered the 1880s, Homer's desire for solitude grew, and his art took on a new intensity. He became sensitive to the hardships and brave lives of the inhabitants and used fishermen, working women, soldiers, and sailors as his subjects for his depictions. At the same time, people can be seen in these works challenging the power of the sea with their strength and responding to its overwhelming dominance in dramatic rescue scenes. From 1881 to 1882, Homer spent his vacations in Tynemouth, where he developed a passion for the sea, painting the sea and seaside fishermen. In 1883, he settled in Prouts Neck, Maine, and began to devote himself to his career in marine painting. His oil and watercolor painting reached its peak, producing a large number of mature, outstanding works that would eventually establish him as the most significant marine painter in American history. In the years before his death, he lived a reclusive life, which is reflected in his paintings. Some of his last watercolors primarily emphasize the vastness of the sea. The figures, if any, are hardly noticeable. Homer's reason for leaving the collective and living a solitary life might have been simply to pour his energy into his greater love of nature. On July 31, 1910, the American painter Winslow Homer died at the age of 74.
One of Homer's most beloved works, Snap the Whip, evokes a nostalgic parting of the country's agrarian past. It depicts children playing happily in a meadow, showing the character of ordinary children in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
Undertow, 1886, is an important work by Homer that takes on the theme of marine life. In this painting, sailors battling huge waves are dragging a dying woman. As the waves roll in all directions and the sea wind howls, the two sailors, clinging to the ropes of their life-pads, struggle against the adverse waves toward the lifeboat, which the artist depicts quite powerfully. The painting is majestic and realistic, truly reproducing the danger of the sea and the scene of men fighting with the sea. Only Homer could depict such a scene in American history at that time. In order to reveal this kind of life in distress at sea, Homer went to New Jersey for field observation, and then after several conceptions, the events depicted in the painting avoided the specificity of the location. The painting was then acquired by a New Yorker named Edward Adams for over $2,000. Homer's "masculine" paintings were at odds with the feminine "fin de siècle" mood of Europe at the time. Therefore, he was not part of the European trend and certainly not part of the trend of American painters who studied in Europe. It was inevitable that he left the art world and went to live alone with nature, and how rare and heroic his paintings are when viewed today.