We who live on this planet that we call earth easily forget that about 70% of the earths surface is covered by water. The sea is everywhere and such a huge part of human existence. Truly the lands we live on are massive islands surrounded by the enormity of the sea. American artist Winslow Homer seascapes were some of the greatest paintings to capture the essence of the new England east coast, using a broad and powerful view. Winslow Homers oil painting On a Lee Shore shows how Homers entire life helped him come to focus on a central theme of the peril of the sea and the drama of mans battle with the sea.
It took a whole life of art work and themes to come to homers finale focus, the relationship with nature. Homer was able to portray a new view point of the sea on his canvas. The sea has always been a very important part of human history. It has been a major part of life since the beginning of mankind. The sea can be beautiful dangerous and powerful. The seas great size makes it a very mysterious place. The Sea can be a dangerous force and can make humans realize that there just a small speck on the earths surface. As americans our ancestors once crossed the sea to get to this country.
The sea dictated where several major cities were formed because it was a vital resource for development. The sea not only effected the development of the city but also effected the minds of those who live there. This is definitely true to Winslow homer. For new England and the east coast the sea was an extremely important part of life. Homer was born in Boston in 1836. Boston was one of the biggest seaports in the us at the time. Homer remained a new englander his whole life. Homers passion for the earths waters came to him partially because of his family.
Both his fathers and mothers sides were involved in the trade of goods overseas. It is not clear how much time of homers childhood was actually spent on the water. However his passion for the sea is evident in all his paintings. His ability to carefully portray ships and anything that has to do with the sea proves that he had some background knowledge on the matter. Most of his drawings are of the outdoors and of nature. Although Most of homers paintings focus on the outdoors and humans in nature, seascapes seemed to become the major theme for homers artistic life. Homer depicts the men who work and live on and by the water.
He learned to draw by being in the nature, observing it and recording what he saw. Homer was for the most part self taught. As his life progressed the more observing he did and it helped his style grow. Homer chose not to follow in his brothers footsteps going to Harvard to study. He knew from a young age that art was what interested and inspired him. While Homer was still living in Boston his father set up him up to be an apprentice to john h bufford, the head of one of Boston’s greatest lithography firms of the day. Learning lithography jumpstarted homers artistic abilities.
Homers career in art started with illustrating covers for music sheets. As time progressed and homers skills got stronger he was able to take on more exciting works. He moved on to doing pictorial wood engravings that showed his ability to show great characterization and use of lights and darks. This may have helped homer be able to comprehend waves as shapes of lights and darks. One of Homer’s drawings was accepted into harpers weekly, an American political magazine based in New York. He later decided to move to the NYC to be at the center of the art world. Homer painted and illustrated in New York.
At this time tensions between the north and south were intense. Homer was hired to portray scenes of the civil war. This led homer to start portraying more bold serious scenes and themes. It was also during this time that homer completed his first oil painting. The skills homer learned during this time he used later in his life to do great artistic experimentation that led to the style, characterized by quick broad bold lose brushstrokes and the use of white on the paper, that we see in On a Lee Shore. During Homers first trip abroad to France he was influenced by french naturalism.
It was during this time that homer started experimenting with water color as a medium. Doing several works in watercolors allowed him to explore the nature of the water. He made several discoveries about how to capture the essence of the water. The sea has great movement and so do homers seascapes. Its as if the sea inspired homer to make new exciting marks in all of his paintings. Experimenting with watercolors allowed homer to make these discoveries. Homers brushstrokes make the viewer feel the gesture and flow of the waves, the density of the rocks on the shore, and the battle that takes place as they collide.
He gives the water a rhythm that the viewer can feel visually. He uses a large variety of different brushstrokes. Some are thin and loose and some are thick and firm. This makes the painting dynamic and interesting. The brushstrokes also create some really beautiful textures. The textures of the crashing waves and the bumpy rocks on the shore could be seen as very similar, but Homer uses slight differences in his brushstrokes to make it clear to the viewer that these are different textures. The brushstrokes also change from the foreground to the background of the painting. There is much more intense contrast in the foreground.
This may be because the paint is more diluted. The colors are less saturated in the background. This helps create depth in the painting. Homer seems to have thought about the composition of this piece a lot. He deals with the space very well. It is clear what should be the center of interest in this landscape. Homer paints it so one wave is in focus more then other waves. This is the wave that is crashing up on the rock. Not only does the water splashing up at the viewer help draw attention, but the thick green and blue oil paints stand out against the more subdued background waves.
The background waves are subdued because they are softer and dimmer in color. The other element of this piece that becomes a focus is the boat sailing out away from the coast into the horizon. You can tell by the way Homer depicts the sail of the boat that the weather is fierce. The horizon vanishes into the mist and fog that engulfs the scene. Homer’s carefully rendered mist and fog allow a sense of depth to amplify the lifelike feel of the scene. Homer paints exactly what he sees on the day he is painting, but he paints with a clear cohesive and conscious artistic aim.
His patterns and feeling for color and line are carefully planned out. Everything Homer does seems to be a conscious artistic decision. Homer’s color palette creates a clear emotional quality for the seascape On a Lee Shore. His colors are cold and somber. He painted what he saw, but his luscious colors help give the scene a specific expression. The colors used make the painting lively, picturesque, dramatic and still convey the dark, sad, tough scene that Winslow Homer once saw “on a lee shore. ” On a lee shore is picturesque because it excites the ideas of pain and danger while still being ascetically pleasing.
The red and yellow rocks in the foreground create a great contrast against the blues and greens used in the rest of the painting. Homer uses a lot of pure white oil paint in this painting. Most of the white used is crashing up against the dark rocks so this helps boost the contrast. The colors are very saturated and high in contrast in the foreground, which intensify the feeling of fog in the background and help push the tone of the piece. After the civil war homer focused on tranquil scenes. Many of his paintings during this time portrayed similar aspects of painting the french art of the time.
Plein air scenes and a light color pallet. Homer may have been inspired by his first trip abroad to France. This is very different from the work Homer produced later in his life such as on a lee shore although you can still see that Homer was influenced by the French avant-garde. Their fascination to incorporate into their works outdoor light, flat and simple forms and free brushwork. His brushstrokes become much loser and bolder. It wasn’t until several years after the civil war when homer started to focus on the theme of the power of nature.
Homers commitment to the sea was not fully developed until he was in his mid 30s. Most of Homers seascapes were painted from his studio in Prout’s Neck, Maine. In 1883, Winslow Homer moved to Prout’s Neck, Maine. Homer built the studio up on the cliff overlooking the ocean. His studio was right on the coast. From the studio you can gaze out into the Atlantic. On the east coast Fierce rolling waves are a fairly regular sight (especially on a stormy day). Homer is known for his depictions of these waves. We can se these powerful waves crashing upon the shore of Maine in the foreground of homers oil painting On a Lee Shore.
Homer lived and worked in this studio space until his death in 1910, at age 74. Winslow homer once said “The life that i have chosen gives me my full hours of enjoyment for the balance of my life. the sun will not rise or set without my notice and thanks. ” This talks about how interaction with nature makes him just as happy as human interaction. For this reason a central theme for homer’s artwork was humans interaction with the water that surrounds them. This is true to on a lee shore, because of the ship fighting the waves out at sea. How ever this painting may focus on a different theme.
This theme is how the sea interacts with the land, rather then how humans interact with the sea. Most of homers earlier seascapes humanity was greatly highlighted. In his later works the sea and the shore was the main focus. In on a lee shore it is evident that the main focus is the wave crashing upon the rocky shore. Some paintings, like on a lee shore, still include some form of human interaction but it is not the main focal point. Homer had a very different view of painting and the sea. One difference is that Homer includes human activity in the landscape.
On a Lee Shore is a perfect example of this. The human activity with the landscape is very evident with the boat struggling to make a brave fight to keep away from the dangerous shoreline. The square composition of the piece helps convey man’s interaction with nature. Homer was not the only one to include human activity. American artists Ducanson and cole also included it in some of there paintings. Homer makes everyday workers seem like heroic adventures out on the sea. In these last few years of homers life he sometimes got rid of the human figure in the scene.
In On a Lee Shore there is no human figure however you still feel the struggle of life forces on the earth, the power of nature, and humans presence on this world. Homers view of the sea was also very different from most artist’s of the time. Early in history the sea was often depicted by artists as something tranquil and calm. Homer took on a totally different view. on a lee shore highlights the ideal weather for a day to inspire him to paint. In Homers eyes A stormy misty day where the wind stirs the ocean into a raging washing machine was far better then a sunny day with a blue sky.
Homer once labeled the ocean on a calm summer day as “that duck pond down there”. When the waves crash upon the rocky shores and the mist engulfs the scene he felt most exhilarated. It took a whole life of art work and themes to come to homers finale focus, the relationship with nature. Homers artistic vision and vision of the world we live in grew and gained intensity all the way up to the day homer passed away. Homers seascapes are displays of the seas power, danger, and beauty. The last few works of homers display the greatest sense of