By Mary Karr
On a recent cruise up the Hudson River it brought to mind the wonderful watercolors of the famous American watercolor artists of all times. Of these Winslow Homer stands out, whose work remains unmatched in its ambition and expressive power. The color is vivid, and the strokes of the brush confident and effortless. Born in 1836, in Boston, it was a period of time that watercolor was just beginning to gain acceptance among professional artists and worthy of attention in the art world. It is amazing that nearly seven hundred of his watercolors have survived and are now among the most prized possessions of the finest museums in the country. He was able to capture a single moment in nature from the stillness of the fog shrouded mountain lakes, to icy cold water rushing over rocks, to the carefree life of barefoot boys and sun-bonnet wearing girls playing in the sand in the busy harbor of Gloucester. These works show us how committed he was to painting his scenes outdoors “in plain air” where he could demonstrate his great ability to capture light and shadows and the complexity of how colors can be reflected and refracted.
In his paintings he gives us a close up of his gorgeous use of deep and vibrant jewel like colors of rose, yellow, and blue reminding us of stained glass windows. Homer was indeed and outdoors man and his paintings confer his love of the sea and fishing and the rugged forests of the Adirondacks. Then, in the last twenty years of his life, to the Caribbean where the warm sun impressed him to paint some of the most colorful and sensual of his paintings, which remain my favorites.
He died in 1910, more than one hundred years ago, but his paintings remain as fresh and immediate as when they were first executed. They continue to inspire other artists and art lovers. An art critic wrote in the Art Journal in 1877:
“He paints the life like he sees it; he never softens a line nor modifies a feature, nor yields for a moment to any soft seduction of beauty. He likes the conditions of American life, the men, the women, the boys and girls of the rustic by-ways of our land, and he likes them the way they are, awkward in dress, spare in form, tanned and freckled by the sun”.
Winslow Homer, in the later years of his life, wrote to his brother, Charles, something that is as true today as it was then. “You will see in the future I will live by my watercolors”.
As always, I would like to remind our readers of the amazing works of our local artists whose paintings, photography, sculptures, and other artistic endeavors are on display in our local shops, restaurants, the Mountains Library, and the new gallery on Memorial Highway near the Flowering Bridge.