Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
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Property from the Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Irving Levitt
WINSLOW HOMER (1836-1910)


WINSLOW HOMER (1836-1910)
bears inscription 'Winslow Homer/79' (lower left)
watercolor, gouache and charcoal on paper
14 x 19 3⁄4 in. (35.6 x 50.2 cm.)
Executed in 1878.
Mrs. Kathryn Huber, Florida, (possibly) acquired from the artist.
Newhouse Galleries, New York, 1946.
Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman, Detroit, Michigan, circa 1955.
Kennedy Galleries, Inc., New York, circa 1960.
Acquired by the late owners from the above, 1961.
(Possibly) “Fine Arts. The Black and White Exhibition of the Salmagundi Sketch Club,” New York Herald, February 12, 1879, p. 6.
Milwaukee Art Institute, "Pictures on Exhibit," vol. 10, no. 6, March 1948, p. 8, illustrated.
The Kennedy Quarterly, December 1960, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 6-7, no. 8, illustrated.
L. Goodrich, A.B. Gerdts, Record of Works by Winslow Homer: 1877 through 1881, vol. III, New York, 2014, p. 105, no. 660, illustrated.
(Possibly) New York, Kurtz Gallery, First Annual Exhibition of Original Black and White Drawings, Sketches and Etchings & c., February 1879, no. 233 (as Coney Island).
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Milwaukee Art Institute, Masterpieces of 19th Century American Painting, March 1948.
Detroit, Michigan, Detroit Institute of Arts, Collection in Progress: Selections from the Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman Collection of American Art, September 29-October 30, 1955, p. 19, no. 17, illustrated.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Milwaukee Art Center, American Painting, 1760-1960: A Selection of 125 Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman, Detroit, March 3-April 3, 1960, p. 73, illustrated.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

Absorbing and intricate, Winslow Homer’s Startled represents the artist at his peak, in his use of color, detail and perspective. Likely depicting Coney Island, New York, the present work portrays a young woman delighting in a simple moment walking along a beach, only to pause and delicately lift up her dress to avoid a mysterious form on the sand—likely a tangle of seaweed. Homer executes his central figure in her elaborate dress with great care, admiration and delicacy, making her the focal point within the seaside vista. The young lady’s attractive dress, vibrant fan and elaborate hat accentuate her grace and beauty as she side steps the form on the sand. Contrary to the work’s title, she seems confident and determined, not alarmed.

Homer’s deliberate decision to magnify the central figure is rare for the artist, who often painted from more panoramic, bird’s-eye vantage points. Indeed, his decision to crop the scene and focus intently on his subject suggests the possible influence of photography. Homer was first exposed to the medium while working as an illustrator for Harpers Weekly during the Civil War. Frank Goodyear III writes, “During this formative period in his painting career, Homer came to learn that photography was a medium not to be used explicitly to replicate a particular subject, but rather to be a source from which he might draw ideas and learn certain lessons. It was to be studied and interacted with, but was not to serve as a substitute for other preparatory studies, especially drawing, a medium he relied upon to outline a painting’s composition and to work out many of its details.” (“A Good Thing When He Sees It: Winslow Homer, Photography, and the Art of Painting,” Winslow Homer and the Camera, exhibition catalogue, New Haven, Connecticut, and London, 2018, p. 15)

In addition to showcasing his compositional consideration, Startled provides insight into Homer’s technical development at this time—retaining delicately toned washes that typify his best watercolors. Homer’s experimentation is particularly evident when comparing the present work to an 1878 version of the same scene, also entitled Startled, in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The present example from the following year exhibits a more modern, reductive compositional design, with more broadly rendered forms and fluid washes. While the central figure retains very fine detail, especially in her clothing, the water and sky are depicted with broad and gentle sweeps of watercolor, in subtle variations of blue and green with highlights of white gouache.

Homer executed Startled a few years before he journeyed to England in 1881, where he famously obsessed over Cullercoats’ fisherwomen battling the elements. While more refined and elegant than the subjects of these later watercolors, Startled arguably anticipates his commitment to the powerful personas he rendered in these potent works. Possibly describing the present work, a New York Herald reviewer for an 1879 Kurtz Gallery exhibition of Homer’s work praised, “In another [frame] are grouped three decidedly impressionistic memoranda of scenes at Coney Island and an incisively drawn, characterful sketch of a pretty, determined girl standing on the beach with set face and threatening fan.” (as quoted in L. Goodrich, A.B. Gerdts, Record of Works by Winslow Homer: 1877 through 1881, vol. III, New York, 2014, p. 105)

In Startled, Homer has conceived a beautiful yet enigmatic scene that simultaneously showcases his distinct style of watercolor. Representing a pivotal moment in the career of America’s foremost watercolorist, the quiet yet commanding composition derives its impact from Homer’s innovative and inherently modern techniques in the medium.

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