The following four lots of photographs by the American painter Winslow Homer are unique in many ways. While Homer's enthusiastic grasp of photography is known and documented, virtually all photographs by Homer are held by the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Bowdoin, Maine. This is the first time photographic works by Homer have been offered for sale at auction, and, to the best of our knowledge, ever.
Their unusual size - enlargements made from the first Kodak snapshots - also represents what is most likely the first time works of this nature have ever been sold at auction. According to Philip Beam, the respected Homer scholar, former curator and author of Winslow Homer at Prout's Neck, these enlargements are unique in the known body of Homer's photographs. There are no other prints of this size in the Homer collection at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. While it is known that Kodak offered an enlarging service from the time the company revolutionized amateur photography with the "Kodak" and photoprocessing through the mail, it is not known if these particular prints were made by Kodak or another laboratory.
The four prints, along with a fifth that the Society is retaining, were discovered while cataloguing the contents of the Reed Homestead attic, a property that is part of the Townsend Historical Society. Homer's brother Charles and his wife lived in West Townsend and Homer was a frequent visitor.
The following comments on the photographs are written by Dr. Paul Provost, Christie's Department Head of American Paintings and Sculpture:
"Like many late nineteenth-century American painters, Winslow Homer was fascinated by the medium of photography. The new medium of continuous tone in black and white allowed the artist to explore the world around him with new pictorial means not available in traditional drawing or painting media.
The inherent qualities of photography naturally suited the painter. As a young artist he was apprenticed to the Boston lithography firm of John Bufford & Sons - an early experience that would shape his approach to expression in a graphic style. From 1875-1885 Homer created an extensive oeuvre of drawings in black and white materials such as charcoal, chalk and white gouache that he exhibited and sold as independent works of art. And later in his career during the 1890s - the period that coincides with his forays into photography - Homer created a series of silvery, monochromatic wash drawings that were intended for reproduction as high-quality lithographs. This life-long interest in black and white media likewise found natural expression in photography.
Homer seems first to have engaged the medium in the early 1880s, when he purchased a camera, manufactured by Marion & Co. now in the collection of the Worcester Art Museum, during his trip to the northeast coast of England from 1881-82. Tipped inside his own copy of a popular treatise on color theory is a photograph of an English fishing boat, which may be one of Homer's earliest efforts in the medium.
By 1890, the artist's older brother Charles Savage Homer gave him an Eastman Kodak No. 1 box camera that the painter would use frequently. During the early 1890s, Homer began taking photographs while traveling to the Adirondacks, Florida, and the wilderness of Quebec. At these locations Homer focused his efforts on painting watercolors out-of-doors. Inspired by the light and color seen in these sublime natural settings, Homer created some of the most memorable images in watercolor.
At the same time however, Homer seems to have been inspired to photograph the landscape and his companions who accompanied him on these painting and sporting expeditions. For example, lot 34 depicts trees draped in Spanish moss along the Florida castal waterway. The careful composition and emphasis on the distant horizon recall Homer's watercolors of Homosassa, Florida that he painted in 1904. Likewise, lots 32 and 33 evoke Homer's extraordinary series of watercolors of the Adirondacks and Quebec executed during the 1890s and first years of the twentieth century. The emphasis on reflected sunlight and the watery surface of the lake seen in these photographs finds parallel in his brilliant watercolors of identical subjects.
The extraordinary group of photographs offered here reveals Homer's talent for composition and his ability to manipulate tonal gradations for expressive effect. Visually curious in any medium, Homer was not undone by the camera's limitations - instead he capitalized on the medium to create expressive and moving images that only underscore his brilliance and creativity."
Please note that the Townsend Historical Society claims the copyright to these images.