Winslow Homer

American, 1836 - 1910
This drawing belongs to a group of Homer drawings of a particular character known to have been done in service of the Century Company’s “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War”, published in four volumes over 1887 and 1888. Although much of the material in these books was new, Battles and Leaders was a development out of a number of articles on the Civil War which appeared in The Century Magazine. Some of these articles, with their illustrations, were reprinted as chapters in the book. But some of the Century articles were not carried over to the book. The Baggage Guard, the drawing from this group most similar to this one, was one of those to appear in the Century (the February 1888 issue), but not in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. Defense of the Baggage Train is so close to The Baggage Guard in subject detail that it may be presumed to be a variant version—not used for the magazine illustration, but a version Homer considered worthy to be saved.

Homer was responsible for fifteen illustrations in Battles and Leaders and/or preliminary articles in The Century. All but one of his illustrations were put in print by photo-mechanical process. That is, Homer’s drawings were photographed, substantially reduced in scale, and printing plates created from the photographic negatives. By this method—unlike his illustrative work of the 1860s and ‘70s where he drew on a wood block and his lines were cut away by the engraver—Homer’s original drawings had the chance to survive. Eight of Homer’s drawings from which the illustrations were made are now located.

The style of those eleven—drawings is distinctive within Homer’s oeuvre, chiefly in the use of sharp black line, rendered in pen and ink, a medium he infrequently used. The sort of “hard” character of these drawings is probably a reflection of Homer’s adaptation to the photomechanical reproductive process. He had been trained in the world of print illustration, even if it was in nearly obsolete technologies, but he would have had no trouble in grasping and adapting to the style of execution necessary to have his drawings remain clear when photographically “shrunk” to the small size appropriate to the format of Battles and Leaders.

Another feature unique to these drawings is their inscribed dating to the years of the Civil War, when obviously they were done in 1887 and 1888. Certain the 1860s dating kept the illustrations from repetition and recombination of sketches made in the field in 1862, 1864, and 1865, was probably Homer’s reason for “back dating” these drawings. (Many of those field sketches survive, and for the most part are in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York). From an artistic stand point, the drawings were not the result of any new idea or conception, and thus were not entitled to be dated to the year of execution.
Winslow Homer was a largely self-taught artist who studied briefly with Fredrick Rondel in 1861 and took several night courses and the Nation Academy of Design. Homer grew up in Cambridge MA and at the age of 19 became an apprentice to a lithographer in Boston. In 1857 Homer began his career as an illustrator and by 1859 had already worked for Harper's Weekly. The magazine sent Homer to the front lines to document the Civil War. In 1861, Homer took up painting with a focus on watercolors. He exhibited the painting "Prisoners from the Front" (1866) in the 1866 Universal Exposition in Paris. This painting showed three dejected Confederate soldiers being interrogated by a Union officer. Homer was best known for his marine paintings in oil and watercolor which portrayed men and women in constant struggle with the sea in deep emotional color and atmosphere. Homer's mature watercolors achieved creative genius and fame through the brilliant design of vibrant space and color.

Biography courtesy of The Caldwell Gallery, www.antiquesandfineart.com/caldwell
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