During the 1870s Winslow Homer painted some of his most idyllic images of American country life of the late nineteenth century. Girl in the Hammock exemplifies this type of painting, with its genteel subject matter, peaceful ambiance and light-filled setting.
Girl in the Hammock depicts a fashionably dressed young woman reclining in a hammock in a sun-dappled setting which appears to be an orchard near a farm, visible in the middle distance. She wears a long white dress, black shoes, and a red shawl around her shoulders. The edge of her dress, catching the cool sunlight, appears luminous. The woman seems to be deeply lost in thought, and she intently reads the book that she holds aloft with both hands.
Girl in the Hammock relates closely to two other oils painted by the artist in the prior year, 1872. Both works are in the collection of the Cooper Hewitt Museum, New York, and may depict the same young woman. In one, titled Summer Afternoon, the artist's model stands on the ground, and leans back, her arms out-stretched on the hammock for support. In the second, Sunlight and Shadow, Homer likewise depicts a sunlit day in summer, and arranges his model in a pose nearly identical to the present work, in which the model projects the same air of ease and relaxation.
Lloyd Goodrich wrote of Homer's genre paintings of single women from the 1860s and 1870s: "His work of these years, as earlier, was much preoccupied with women. But his attitude was less remote, more intimate. The athletic miss was less in evidence and the young ladies now are seen idling in hammocks, reading novels, embroidering, picking flowers, catching butterflies and engaged in other gentle feminine occupations. Often they were shown singly, as individuals rather than merely parts of a scene. Still not idealized, they were pictured with a delicate precision, a sensitiveness to individual character, that would have made him one of our finest portraitists. The note of sentiment was stronger, but still reserved, implicit rather than openly expressed. The artist's attitude, though warmer and more intimate than before, was far from the sensuousness of Manet and Renior or the mordant realism of Degas. He was still typically American in his air of detachment, his refinement, his lack of frank sensuousness. In heavier hands these pictures might have turned into sentimentality, but Homer's utter honesty and freshness of vision kept them genuine and delightful. Among all his works they have a special and unexpected charm." (Winslow Homer, New York, 1944, p. 56).
Scholars have discussed at length the identity of the single women that Homer included in his compositions of the 1870s. Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr. has also noted that "There are many stories of Homer's attraction to women; in early life, he said, he had a 'weakness' for pretty girls, and his paintings (mostly in watercolor) of the 1870s constitute a virtual gallery of women, who, by the very fact of their recurrence, were clearly more closely connected with Homer than professional models would have been. In the 1870s, Homer was in his late forties, of a marriageable age, and, with reasonable prospects of professional success, financially in a marriageable position; what his paintings of the decade may show, apart from everything else, are episodes of or attempts at courtship." (Winslow Homer, Washington, DC, 1995, p. 103-4).
Girl in the Hammock continues Homer's artistic investigation of subjects that depicted women engaged in leisure activities. His great series of the 1860s of women playing croquet would find further expression in works such as Eagle Head, Manchester Massachusetts, of 1870 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), At the Window, of 1872 (The Art Museum, Princeton University), and finally Girl in a Hammock, of 1873, among other, later works until about 1880. From 1881, Homer's artistic production changed forever following his trip to Cullercoats, England, after which the subject matter of women engaged in leisure activities would all but disappear from his oeuvre. As an expression of Homer's recurring artistic interests of the 1870s, and with its sunlight and peaceful tranquility, Girl in the Hammock exemplifies Homer's depictions of women painted outdoors in the American landscape, and reflects his favored means of expression during this highly personal and expressive period of his career.
This work will be included in the forthcoming Spanierman Gallery/CUNY/Goodrich/Whitney catalogue raisonné of the works of Winslow Homer.