Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
Property from a Delaware Collection
Winslow Homer (1836-1910)

Young Woman

Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
Young Woman
signed and dated 'Homer 1880' (lower right)
watercolor, gouache and pencil on paper
9½ x 13¾ in. (24.1 x 35 cm.)
Mrs. Walter E. Swift, New York.
[With]Kennedy Galleries, Inc., New York, 1950.
[With]Charles D. Childs Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts, circa 1950. Mr. and Mrs. Homer Strong, Rochester, New York, 1951.
Strong Museum, Rochester, New York, 1969.
Christie's, New York, 4 December 2003, lot 26.
Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York, acquired from the above.
G. Hendricks, The Life and Work of Winslow Homer, New York, 1979, pp. 140, 317, no. CL-538, fig. 219, illustrated.
Everson Museum of Art, Winslow Homer in the 1880s: Watercolors, Drawings and Etchings, exhibition catalogue, Syracuse, New York, 1983, p. 9, fig. 3, no. 2, illustrated.
Whitney Museum of American Art, Fairfield County, Winslow Homer and the New England Coast, exhibition catalogue, Stamford, Connecticut, 1984, p. 11.
H.A. Cooper, Winslow Homer Watercolors, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1986, pp. 69, 71, fig. 55, illustrated.
L. Goodrich, A.B. Gerdts, Record of Works by Winslow Homer, 1877 to March 1881, New York, 2008, pp. 297, 456, no. 900, illustrated.
Syracuse, New York, Everson Museum of Art, Winslow Homer in the 1880s: Watercolors, Drawings and Etchings, December 9, 1983-January 29, 1984, no. 2.
Stamford, Connecticut, Whitney Museum of American Art, Fairfield County, Winslow Homer and the New England Coast, November 9, 1984-January 9, 1985.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, and elsewhere, Winslow Homer Watercolors, March 2-May 11, 1986, no. 55.

Lot Essay

The summer of 1880, the time Young Woman 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, Young Woman.

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 color...are 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 painting delights in a simple moment walking with her dog in the bright sun off the coast of Long Island Sound. As Ms. Cooper noted, the woman and her dog indeed seem to have been given equal standing with the beautiful shore and sparkling water. While this work appears at first to be just a charming scene of a woman strolling leisurely on a beach, 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 Young Woman, the landscape and sky 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 brush strokes of rich verdant hues of the grass and foliage of the trees as well as dashes of black, blue and russet to make up the woman's dress and dabs of pale pink in the woman's face. Homer paints the woman with grace and beauty carefully executing the details of her dress as she delicately looks down at her playful dog. Also carefully rendered, the beach has long, swaying grasses sprouting from the ground and majestic trees tower in the distance; a lone sailboat glides through the blue waters on the horizon. The entire composition is unified by Homer's careful observation of light and atmosphere.

In Young Woman, Homer has painted a scene of great beauty and calmness as well as a work showcasing his unique style of watercolor and using his 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)

More from Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture

View All
View All