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Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
Winslow Homer (1836-1910)

The Boat Builders

Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
The Boat Builders
signed and dated 'Winslow Homer June 1873' (lower right)
pencil on paper
9½ x 13 in. (24.1 x 33 cm.)
Lawson Valentine, New York.
Lucy Houghton Valentine, wife of the above, 1891.
Almira Valentine Pulsifer, daughter of the above, 1911.
Harold Trowbridge Pulsifer, son of the above.
Susan Nichols Pulsifer, wife of the above, 1948.
Roger Palmer, Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, 1948.
Milch Galleries, New York, 1971.
Mrs. Leo Rudin, Great Neck, New York, 1972.
Private collection.
By descent to the present owners.
L. Goodrich, A.B. Gerdts, Record of Works by Winslow Homer: 1867 Through 1876, vol. II, New York, 2005, pp. 245-46, no. 467, illustrated.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, and elsewhere, Winslow Homer, April 3-June 3, 1973, no. 166.
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Winslow Homer in Monochrome, December 12, 1986-January 10, 1987, no. 52.
Chicago, Illinois, Terra Museum of American Art, Winslow Homer in Gloucester, October 20-December 30, 1990, no. 4.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, and elsewhere, Winslow Homer, October 15, 1995-January 28, 1996, no. 73.

Lot Essay

The magnificent body of work that Winslow Homer created during his visit to the coastal retreat of Gloucester is recognized as some of the artist's finest work. In 1873, the year he executed The Boat Builders, Homer had immersed himself in the daily life of the small fishing town located north of Boston, on the coast of Massachusetts. Concentrating his efforts on genre scenes, Homer recorded the habits and routines of the townspeople, but more than anything else, he turned to the children of the area as his subjects. Their youthful innocence inspired Homer to produce some of the most poignant works of his career.

In discussing Homer's choice of Gloucester as his summer sojourn, D. Scott Atkinson notes, "It was not simply picturesque views of specific sites and landmarks, however, that interested Homer in the summer of 1873. It was, instead, the presence of the local boys along the shore that became the focus of his artistic attention. His images of Gloucester children were part of a larger series of works, beginning in the late 1860s, in which he explored the theme of boyhood... The Gloucester boys represent a logical continuation of this investigation of childhood. They wear the same attire as their earlier counterparts-straw hats, cotton shirts, outgrown trousers-and very often have bare feet." (Winslow Homer in Gloucester, Chicago, Illinois, 1990, pp. 15-16)

The Boat Builders depicts two boys perched upon a rocky outcropping by the sea. Perhaps envisioning themselves as future mariners, the pair is deeply engrossed in constructing their toy sailboats. Homer has surrounded the boys with various nautical accoutrements such as a beached dory tethered to a large anchor and a passing sailboat purposefully located on the horizon between the two figures, again hinting at their likely professions. The buoyant spirit of the work--depicting two boys whiling away the hours in hazy sunlight--is highly characteristic of Homer's best Gloucester works.

The themes of childhood and shipbuilding appear together in several of Homer's Gloucester subjects. Whether working in pencil, watercolor, oil or even print making, Homer's fascination with daily life in the coastal town is evident. As an example, Homer has placed the boys and their toy sailboats in the foreground of the composition for an engraving he completed for the October 11, 1873 issue of Harper's Weekly. Set against the backdrop of a shipyard where throngs of men are working tirelessly to construct an impressive vessel, the group of boys in the foreground is shown toiling away on their own toy boats, perhaps inspired by the productivity surrounding them.

The Boat Builders demonstrates all of the hallmarks found in Homer's best works from his time in Gloucester. The innocence of the local children and their aspirations of life on the sea are subjects that captivated Homer and reemerge frequently in his celebrated body of work from the early 1870s.

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