Winslow Homers “Breezing Up” The1873 masterpiece “Breezing Up”, by Winslow Homer located in theNational Gallery of Art in Washington DC is an oil on canvas painting thatmeasures 23 3/13 X 38 1/6 in. .
The primary subject of this painting is a manwith three boys in a small wooden sail boat that is moving along with whatappears to be a fairly choppy sea. At the center of this painting is the sternof the sail boat. The oldest of the boys is sitting on the high end of the sternwith his knees up and his bare feet planted flat on the deck in order to keephim from slipping down into the water. This image forms a powerful triangle inthe center of the painting.
The boy?s use of only one hand on the tiller linecombined with his relaxed posture suggest that he is very much at ease with hisresponsibility of steering the boat. His face is only visible in a semi-profileview which exposes his chin, left cheek, and eye socket. These features are welldefined against thick layers of puffy clouds which are lingering over the water. Like the others in the boat he is facing away from the setting sun which causesthe light to reflect off the back of his long sleeved shirt and hat. Just to theboy?s right is the man in the boat who is presumably the father of the boys. His seated position below the deck allows the viewer only to see his faceshoulders, arms, and hands.
His red long sleeved shirt is the brightest color inthe painting, and his calloused hands show strength as he holds the halyard firmin the cleat with a fully extended arm. Of the four people in the boat he is theonly one with a troubled look on his face. According to David Prown this is avery common characteristic in Homer?s work. He says: Although the adults ofHomer?s world seem isolated, his children frolic together in a cheerful worldof laughter and mutuality.
For Homer, growing up seems to imply a loss, a fallfrom paradise, removal from happy, carefree innocence and high spirits to aserious, lonely existence in which each man is an island unto himself. (Prown86) This is the perfect description of the expressions of the people in thispainting. The children are clearly relaxed and content, but the father has anexpression that suggests that he has something weighing heavy on his mind, andthat he is receiving only temporary relief as he relaxes on the water with hissons. The other two boys are relaxing up towards the bow of the boat.
The olderof the two is stretched out across the deck covering the width of the bow withhis leather shoes hovering inches over the water. The youngest of the boys issitting up right on the deck with his feet resting inside the boat and he has apleasant look of deep thought on his face. Clearly all of these boys are relaxedand content with their surroundings. Numerous fish inside of the boat suggestthat this group has had an afternoon of fishing and recreation.
They are notdressed for serious fishing, so there is a good chance they are out therestrictly for leisure. A building off the bow on the distant shore is barelyvisible, and combined with the long shadows of the setting sun, it seems thatthey are heading home. Homers soft blue sky and puffy white clouds take up 2/3of the canvas, leaving only the bottom third for the water and the horizon. Thesky is completely empty except for a lone gull who?s wings are lit up by thesun as is hovers directly in line with what appears to be a tiny illuminatedsail of another boat on the very distant horizon.
Homer also has an uncommonability to recreate curves just as they would appear in nature. He uses thisability to capture the shape and form of the rolling waves in the sea, by evenmore than that he uses it to capture the human experience. The use of thesunlight as it reflects off the cloths of the people in the boat adds to therealistic nature of this painting. The wrinkles of white cotton shirts of theboy?s are accented brilliantly as the sun illuminates and caused shadows ondifferent parts of their arms. The four people in this painting express morewith their body language that they do with their facial expressions.
Particularly the curve of their backs is evidence of their state of relaxation. In the children there is no evidence of tension in their bodies. This is incontrast with the father’s posture where tension is quite evident. The viewer’sposition directly off the stern of the sailboat is a privileged one. It allowsHomer’s style of American realism to be truly revealed. The exact details of thesmall wooden boat are astonishing.
He captures everything from the stitches inthe sail to the twist of the lines. Even the grain of the wood in the hull andthe mast are perfectly visible. The attention to detail is magnificent. The useof light and shadows across the sail form a drastic contrast.
This contrastgives the viewer a real feel for the way the sun is shinning across the water. The spray of water that washes over the bow as the boat bounces through thechoppy water is another example of Homer?s close attention to detail. There isalso a merchant ship on the horizon on the right side of the canvas that thoughdistant still retains a great deal of detail. The sense of comfort and serenityon the boy?s faces is an interesting contrast to the expression of worry ontheir fathers face, but this worry clearly is not related to their situation onthe water. This work was completed towards the early part of Homer’s paintingcareer, and this is apparent by the look and shape of the water.
As his lifeprogressed, Homer began to focus on the power of the water in the sea, and heearned a reputation for being one of the best painters of his time in regards tohis ability to capture the motion and and power of waves. In this painting thereis less attention given to the water causing it to have very general andundefined characteristic. This neutral aspect of the water gives the painting anover all feel of relaxation and comfort. Prown gives an interesting descriptionto this painting in in his book American Painting From its Beginnings to theArmory Show. In this book he states: Breezing Up is a seagoing version of Snapthe Whip. The boys exert a mutual effort for their common delight.
One adult ispresent, briefly privileged to share their pleasure. The day is sunny; the airand water are alive. Wind fills the sails, and the boat fairly shudders as itdrives through the choppy sea. The thrust of air against the canvas pulls everyline taut, and hands work to hold this living machine, quick with the breath ofnature under control. (Prown 87).
This is a nice description of the work. Itseems that one of this paintings main focuses is the pleasure and beauty ofchildren in nature. BibliographyPrown, Jules. American Painting From its Beginnings to the Armory Show. World Publishing.
Cleveland, Ohio. 1969.