Winslow Homer executed Nassau: Water and Sailboat on his second visit to the Bahamas. He first set sail for the city of Nassau in December 1884. Nassau was becoming a popular tourist location and Century Magazine, for whom Homer had worked in the past, commissioned the artist to illustrate an article on the city. In December 1898, Homer returned to the Bahamas after being away for thirteen years. Over the two months he stayed there, he executed over twenty-five watercolors. Helen Cooper writes, "Homer brought to the late Bahamas watercolors the skills he had developed in the Adirondacks and Quebec--achieving maximum effect through simple composition and bold, uncluttered combinations of color. The Bahamas watercolors convey an intensely physical and unmediated response to the almost barbaric beauty he saw all around him: the brilliant colors of the lush landscape under the high sun of midday...Saturated colors--ultramarine and Prussian blues, turquoise and bright green, siennas, ochers, scarlet and pink--laid down with liquid strokes, over little or no graphite lines, build compositions of extraordinary strength and clarity." (Winslow Homer Watercolors, Washington, D.C., 1986, p. 208)
A masterwork of control and expression in watercolor, the luminous color, vibrant fluid washes and boldness of Nassau: Water and Sailboat rank it among Homer's finest achievements in the medium. Helen Cooper writes, "Formally, the Caribbean light had a liberating--and lasting--effect on Homer's watercolor style. The Bahamas sheets are painted with free and gestural strokes in transparent washes often of brilliant colors, leaving large areas of white paper exposed. Their style was undoubtedly suggested by the conditions of their creation: painted outdoors, and quickly, before the watery pigment could dry under the hot sun. With fewer spongings, scrapings, and lift-outs, they have a direct, seemingly unpremeditated execution. Homer was able suddenly to say things with ease that had before been communicated only with effort." (Winslow Homer Watercolors, p. 134) In Nassau: Water and Sailboat, Homer has painted the brilliant sky with subtle variations of blue and pink hues and the foreground is filled with thin washes of blue, yellow and tan. These washes relieve the heavy, darker tones of the shady trees. With watercolor, Homer was able to convey the atmosphere of a breezy, tropical day, unifying the entire composition.
When Homer first exhibited his Caribbean watercolors in New York and Boston in 1885-86, they were met with great praise, and critics sensed a new direction in Homer's art. Franklin Kelly writes, "the critics were...quick to notice that in them he had demonstrated an impressive new handling of the medium. Homer had now found 'color and sunshine' and a 'newborn power of rendering them,'' a frankness and yet a harmony.' And surely the source of that new power play in the fact that Homer painted these watercolors not as part of a larger systematic process intended to result in a finished work of high ambition, but as records of actual experience. They were, in other words, transcriptions of the visual encounters with new things in a new land that energized Homer's creative instincts, 'memoranda of travel,' but also memoranda of excitement, interest, and pleasure." (Winslow Homer, Washington, D.C., 1995, p. 187)
Of all of Homer's travels, the Bahamas were certainly the most exotic and with their vibrant palette and uncommon imagery, the series of watercolors that Homer produced in the Bahamas has consistently captured the attention of collectors since they were painted. They also reveal more about the artist himself, indeed, "the most telling proof of Homer's warmer nature is to be found in the glorious watercolor of the last twenty-five years of his life. They present such a departure from the character of his Maine oils that they must appear as joyous statements made when the artist, freed from his commitment to paint exhibition pieces, simply relaxed on holiday." (D.F. Hoopes, Winslow Homer Watercolors, New York, 1969, p. 18)
This work will be included in the forthcoming Spanierman Gallery/CUNY/Goodrich catalogue raisonné of the works of Winslow Homer.