The summer of 1880, the time Girl Seated in a Grove was painted, was one of great experimentation and productivity for Winslow Homer. That year, Homer had given up illustration and devoted much of his attention to depicting light and atmosphere in his paintings. He lived in almost complete solitude in a lighthouse on Ten Pound Island in the center of Gloucester Harbor and spent the summer painting the harbor and its inhabitants, exclusively working in watercolor. Homer also spent some of his time that summer along Long Island Sound executing several watercolors, including the present work, Girl Seated in a Grove.
Helen A. Cooper writes, "In at least seven watercolors, among them Young Woman and Woman with Flower, Homer rehearses the image of a woman, not in close-up as in the watercolors of the mid-1870s, but in the middle ground. Dressed in black, her delicate features and slight form are less individualized and distinct. Unlike the earlier juxtaposition of a large, carefully described foreground figure against a more freely painted landscape, in these watercolors Homer grants the figure and landscape equal importance by rendering both with similar brushwork. As in some of the earlier figure pieces, he integrates color and subject; here, however, the result is less deliberate and intimate. The woman has simply become one with the setting: her muted mood and delicate colorare echoed in the hazy light and tones of the landscape." (Winslow Homer Watercolors, Washington, D.C., 1986, p. 69)
Unlike the scenes Homer will later paint in so many of his English watercolors of fishermen and women battling the elements, the young woman in the present work delights in a simple moment as she sits in quiescence shaded by the covert of trees off the Long Island Sound coast. As Ms. Cooper noted, the woman indeed seems to have been given equal standing, blending with the landscape. While this work appears at first to be just a charming scene of a girl in reverie, it also provides insight into his technical development, retaining delicately toned washes that typify Homer's best watercolors. Ms. Cooper notes, "the achievements of the summer of 1880 are found above all in watercolors distinguished by fluid, saturated washes, brilliant light, and reductiveness of composition. Light and color now fascinated Homer more than ever, and in sheet after sheet he experimented with washes of various intensities." (Winslow Homer Watercolors, p. 70)
In Girl Seated in a Grove, the majestic trees are depicted with broad and gentle sweeps of watercolor in subtle variegated tones. Homer uses this application of watercolor as no other artist did at the time. He combined fluid, transparent washes of color and juxtaposed them with saturated pigment. In this work, Homer has used short brushstrokes of the rich, verdant hues of the foliage as well as the dashes of black to make up the woman's dress and dabs of pale pink for her corsage. Homer paints the woman with grace and beauty, carefully executing the details of her coat and the ruffles of her skirt as she delicately looks to her side. The entire composition is unified by Homer's careful observation of light and atmosphere.
In Girl Seated in a Grove , Homer has painted a watercolor of great beauty and peacefulness as well as a work showcasing his unique style and talent for color. Both the subject and techniques used by Homer in his watercolors of 1880 were recognized as a skilled and innovative use of his medium in creating simple, direct and powerful compositions. They remain a body of work, which together constitutes a pivotal moment of his career as America's foremost painter in watercolor. Homer said of his fascination with light and color, "You must not paint everything you see, you must wait, and wait patiently, until the exceptional, the wonderful effect or aspect comes." (as quoted in Winslow Homer Watercolors, p. 70)