Lot Content

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE NEW YORK COLLECTION 
Winslow Homer (1836-1910)

A Shady Spot, Houghton Farm

Details
Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
A Shady Spot, Houghton Farm
signed with initial and dated 'H 1878' (lower right)
watercolor and gouache on paper
7 x 8¼ in. (17.8 x 21 cm.)
Provenance
Lawson Valentine, New York, circa 1879.
Lucy Houghton Valentine, wife of the above, by descent, 1891.
Almira Valentine Pulsifer, daughter of the above, by descent, 1911.
Lawson Valentine Pulsifer, Mountainville, New York, son of the above, by descent.
Natalie Pulsifer Byles, daughter of the above, by descent, 1957.
Pamela B. Miller, Brooklyn, New York, daughter of the above, by descent, 1976.
Christie's, New York, 5 December 2002, lot 23.
Private collection.
Thomas Colville Fine Art, Guilford, Connecticut.
Richard Thune, Greenwich, Connecticut.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, circa 2007.
Literature
W.H. Fox, Museums of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences: Report Upon the Condition and Progress of the Museums, New York, 1916, p. 39.
Whitney Museum of American Art, Winslow Homer Centenary Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, New York, New York, 1936, p. 24, no. 44.
Carnegie Institute, Centenary Exhibition of Works of Winslow Homer, exhibition catalogue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1937, p. 26, no. 97 (as Sunlight and Shade).
Storm King Art Center, Winslow Homer in New York State, exhibition catalogue, Mountainville, New York, 1963, p. 17, no. 32, illustrated.
M.D. Davis, Winslow Homer: An Annotated Bibliography of Periodical Literature, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1975, pp. 20, 104.
L. Ayres, J. Wilmerding, Winslow Homer in the 1870s: Selections from the Valentine-Pulsifer Collection, exhibition checklist, Princeton, New Jersey, 1990.
K. Dahm, M. Tedeschi, Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light, exhibition catalogue, Chicago, Illinois, 2008, pp. 62-63, fig. 29, illustrated.
L. Goodrich, A.B. Gerdts, Record of Works by Winslow Homer (1877 to March 1881), vol. III, New York, 2008, p. 140, no. 710, illustrated.
Exhibited
Brooklyn, New York, The Museum of the Brooklyn Institute, and elsewhere, Water Colors by Winslow Homer, October 16-November 7, 1915, no. 19.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Winslow Homer Centenary Exhibition, December 15, 1936-January 15, 1937, no. 44.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute, Centenary Exhibition of Works of Winslow Homer, January 28-March 7, 1937, no. 97.
Mountainville, New York, Storm King Art Center, Winslow Homer in New York State, June 29-August 22, 1963, no. 32.
New York, The Katonah Gallery, Winslow Homer, September 8-October 15, 1963, no. 6.
Chicago, Illinois, Art Institute of Chicago, Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light, February 16-May 11, 2008.

Lot Essay

In 1882, G.W. Sheldon proclaimed, "Winslow Homer, indeed, never fully found himself until he found the American Shepherdess." (as quoted in F. Ilchman, Winslow Homer in the 1870s: Selections from the Valentine-Pulsifer Collection, Hanover, 1990, p. 67) Having established himself as a respected artist in the 1860s with his moving depictions of Civil War soldiers, Homer solidified his place as a great American artist with his paintings of nostalgic rural life in the following decade. During a time of Restoration for the country, Homer's concentration on the simple ways of the past, exemplified by his shepherdesses, reflected the need for hope and peace in the nation. At the same time, Homer's tendency toward a contemplative mood in his works acknowledged the feelings of the public in a time of national uncertainty, as well as his own personal disquietude as the artist approached middle age. Encompassing several of the most important themes from this era of Homer's career, as well as exhibiting his unmatched skill with the medium of watercolor, A Shady Spot, Houghton Farm is a beautiful example from one of Homer's most acclaimed series.

The present work was painted during Homer's extended stay in the summer and fall of 1878 at Houghton Farm, a working homestead in Mountainville, New York, owned by Homer's first and most important patron, Lawson Valentine. A varnish manufacturer who eventually owned approximately forty works by the artist, Valentine purchased Houghton Farm in 1876 and soon invited Homer to visit. With its picturesque horses, Jersey cows and Southdown sheep, the farm inspired the artist to create approximately fifty watercolors and several drawings and studies.

In A Shady Spot, Houghton Farm, Homer depicts a single shepherdess in traditional costume resting in contemplation under the shade of a verdant green tree. Standing tall parallel to the trunk of the tree and depicted in mirroring gray-brown tones, the young woman exemplifies the heartiness and enduring strength of those who live a traditional rural life. With her arms crossed across her stomach and her gaze directed off into the distance at lower left, she also appears withdrawn and absorbed in introspection. Robert Wolterstoff explains, "Scholars have speculated on Homer's lost love, and Homer's sadness or frustration may have been sublimated in the many scenes he painted of the solitary shepherdess, often in clinging attire." (Winslow Homer in the 1870s: Selections from the Valentine-Pulsifer Collection, London, 1990, p. 65) The seriousness imbedded in her face also reflects the state of the nation at the time and was seen by contemporaries as a symbol of the moral virtue of rural life and American freedom.

Aside from its historical and personal undertones, A Shady Spot, Houghton Farm is a stunning success solely for Homer's expert application of bright, full-bodied colors to create an amazing recreation of the lights and shadows of a sunny day in the country. The dark greens and browns of the tree and the shaded foreground area are offset by the intense yellow of the sunned grass in the distance. Using artfully applied speckles of white gouache, Homer captures the dappled light falling on the shepherdess through the cover of leaves. This virtuoso representation of sunlight in Homer's Houghton Farm watercolors was praised by Susan N. Carter in The Art Journal of 1879: "We have rarely seen anything more pure and gentle than the little American girl...half hidden away in dark shade of the trees, with her sheep at her side. The picture, too, is delightful in chiaro-oscuro. But it takes an artist as well informed as Mr. Homer to dare to contrast such a dark, clear shadow with the brilliant dash of sunshine which isolates the little shepherdess from the spectator, and throws her woody retreat into a poetical remoteness." (as quoted in N. Cikovsky, Jr. and F. Kelly, Winslow Homer, New Haven, 1995 p. 162) Lost in reverie, Homer's lone shepherdess symbolizes a vanishing past and a more virtuous agrarian present.

More from American Art

View All
View All