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Home | Articles | Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History

Clark Art Institute
225 South Street, Williamstown, MA
October 9, 2005–January 16, 2006
For information phone 413.458.2303
or visit www.clarkart.edu
This innovative exhibition of work by the 19th-century American artist, is the largest showing from the Clark’s extensive holdings in decades. The exhibition offers insights into the artist’s achievements, raises questions about the variable nature of history, and documents the collection’s own institutional past. It showcases 10 oil paintings, 11 watercolors, 17 drawings and etchings, and 1 photograph, as well as approximately 120 rarely seen wood engravings. The project continues the Clark’s tradition of creating exhibitions—Jacques-Louis David, Gustav Klimt, and J.M.W. Turner were the subjects of recent exhibits—that cast new light onto the careers of well-known artists.
Winslow Homer (1836–1910) was born in Boston, and grew up in nearby Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mostly self-taught, his early career included employment as an apprentice for a Boston lithographic firm and as an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly, in New York, chronicling the Civil War. In 1884 he settled in Prout’s Neck, Maine, where he lived for the remainder of his life. That site, along with his various North American travels, particularly in New York’s Adirondacks, fueled his later art.
With nearly 250 works by Homer, dating from 1857 to 1904, the Clark’s deep holdings provide a variety of distinctive perspectives on this important American artist.
Making Art, Making History will bring the full range of the Clark’s Homer collection to the public, including works on paper that are, due to their light sensitive nature, only rarely on view.
“The scope of the Clark’s collection and the range of media represented allow us to ask a number of intriguing questions of Homer’s works,” says Marc Simpson, curator of American art at the Clark and organizer of the exhibition. “Many of them began as documents—of the Civil War, for example, or fashion—then became the meat of art history, and are now frequently illustrations of economic, political, and social histories. The exhibition will tease out strands from just a few of these many different stories…” Among the major oil paintings featured is Undertow (1886). The Clark owns not only the painting but a cache of six preparatory drawings for it, enabling an intimate look at the artist’s design process and offering insights into how he developed one of his largest and most singular works.
As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, three works by Homer are on show in 50 Favorites (till May 17, 2006) a special presentation of works from the Clark’s collection in celebration of the museum’s 50th anniversary. Chosen by a group of people invited to pick their favorite works, the selections include West Point, Prout’s Neck (1900) judged by a critic of the time as the worst picture in that year’s Society of American Artists exhibition, and offering on how perspectives on Homer’s work have shifted.

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