In this article on early American realism I am going to consider two masters of the genre who have been overlooked in art histories. Robert Atkins in Art Spoke does consider the contributions of these two very important realist painters.
” The subject of the figure outdoors challenged an international spectrum of painters during the 1860’s that also included the American Winslow Homer and numerous French Artists such as Claude Monet and Berthe Morisot”. .
” The emergences of realism in the wake of revolutionary uprisings throughout Europe in 1848 made such an emphasis on modern life highly political. realism is a product of the increasingly powerful bourgeois whose ranks were being swollen by the Industrial revolution”. .
Commenting on Thomas Eakins Atkins shows particularly his very careful depiction of a medical operation in the ‘ Gross Clinic’.
” In the more egalitarian American society Thomas Eakins brilliantly observed realist painting of a medical operation in the gross Clinic of 1875 was a pointed injunction against any mythological or idealising subject matter”. .
Matthew Baigell in his concise History of American painting shows the influence of mainly European painters.
” a key factor in understanding the period is to acknowledge the pervasive foreign influence even in the works of Eakins and Homer”. .
Continuing his commentary on European art influences Baigell shows how both Homer and Eakins brilliant masters of realism soaked up all the art that the French artists could give to Homer and Eakins.
” all of the major artists and literally hundreds of minor ones travelled abroad during their formative years studying with the acknowledged masters and observing as much as possible the traditions of European art”. .
Singling out the importance of Homer and Eakins Baigell shows how their style and use of the genre made them very interesting painters to study.
” more probing stylistically and thematically however were the paintings of Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins who with James Abbot Mcneil Whistler were the best and most consistently interesting painters of the period”. .
” Homer and Eakins transformed genre painting and portraiture into strong statements of personal sensibility and in their late works discovered an America that impressionist pleasantries and American renaissance escapism entirely overlooked”. .
Homer who had acted as an illustrator in the civil war was able to use this experience to further develop the genre.
” Homer’s experience as a civil war illustrator provided themes for his earliest paintings the most famous being (Prisoners from the front 1866)”. .
Winslow Homer painted a variety of different paintings with people in different settings as shown in these following images.
” Over the several decades of his career Homer also painted individuals in a wide variety of context-vacationeers , farmers hunters, fishermen. During the 1860’s his figures worked or vacationed in amiable enviroments”. .
” Homer painted as one recording the physical experiences both directly and in a self-conscious artistic manner. That is the viewer is acutely aware of Homer’s immediate responses to a scene as well as his manipulation of composition , colour and tone”. .
Homer painted a series of vacation pictures before he departed for Paris comments Baigell.
” In the period just before his visit to paris in 1866-7 Homer began a series of vacation pictures especially noted for their daringly flattened shapes and subtle lighting effects. The probable influence of Japanese prints as well as his interest in the effects of sunlight on objects”. .
It is interesting to compare Eakins and Homer. Homer was concerned to do a lot of outdoor scenes of people holidaying or working. He reminds me of Millet and Corot the great French realists whereas Eakins reminds me of Gustave Courbet with his nuances of depicting the real life of people like the Boxing Match or the girl working as a seamstress.
” Homer continued his experiments after returning from Paris where he possiblt saw the Exhibition of Japanese art at the Universal Exposition as well as the special showing of Edouard Manet’s work”. .
” In an interview in 1880 Homer acknowledged the importance of lighting conditions the light of the sun and reflection”. .
Baigell shows how Homer developed his work and the genre by producing pictures that were darker in tone and colour.
” By the middle 1870’s Homer’s palette had darkened considerably. the figures distant counterparts to the peasants of Millet dominate the spaces around them and are serious if not heroic in their work”. .
it is really interesting to see how the peasants depicted in Millet’s pictures particularly the Sower are so like some of Winslow Homers work.
” They herald the appearance of the monumental female figures Homer painted at Cullercoats in England in 1881-2″. .
Both Homer and Eakins experimented with watercolours as Baigell explains.
” To match his elemental subject matter Homer developed a seemingly simplified style in part dependent on watercolour painting”. .
” together with a resurgence of Japanese influence in the 1890’s these features found their way into his late oils”. .
Baigell shows how Thomas Eakins a painter of outstanding technical and theoretical grasp of the genre was like Winslow Homer overlooked when in fact both of them could be compared to realists like Courbet , Manet , Millet and Corot.
” Thomas Eakins an artist with at least intellectual discernment and with better technical ability received even less acknowledgment than Homer and as with Homer no major school developed around him”. .
” This is quite surprising since Eakins was probably the best teacher of his generation and taught at the Pennysylvania academy of the arts from 1876-1886″. .
This concludes my first part exploration of Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer. In Part two I will further explore both their roles in the genre of Portraiture and Genre painting.
- ART SPOKE 1848-1944 ROBERT ATKINS PG.133
- DITTO. PG.183
- DITTO. PG.184
- A CONCISE HISTORY OF AMERICAN PAINTING AND SCULPTURE MATTHEW BAIGELL. PG.122
- DITTO. PG.134
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- DITTO. PG.135
- DITTO. PG.135
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- DITTO PG. 136
- DITTO. PG.136