Van Gogh •
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Winslow Homer, the son of a Boston hardware merchant, spent his childhood fishing
instead of studying art. His only early training was an apprenticeship to a lithographer for whom he drew pretty girls to adorn the covers of popular songs. By 1857, however, he was an illustrator for Harper's Weekly drawing happy scenes of country life at first and then, during the Civil War, pictures of the loneliness and the pastimes of soldiers far from home. He painted his first oil during this period, again with almost no instruction; for Homer believed that a man who wished to be an artist must not look at other artists' work. Consequently, he remained resolutely alone, refusing to have anything to do with European art.
After the war he returned to New York where he continued as an illustrator and painted a series of genre pictures of children and country life. These met with both enthusiastic public approval and some critical disapproval. Often repeated by later critics, the complaint centered around being disturbed by the simplicity and the force of Homer's statements. Like all artists who work alone, Homer matured
slowly, and as he matured, he lost interest in portrayals of the land and children. In 1883, he moved from New York to Maine where he set up a studio close to the wild and rocky coast and began his series of watercolors of the sea and its people, before finally losing interest in people altogether, and confining himself almost entirely to "the lonely sea and the sky." His watercolors are so powerful that it is difficult to believe that Homer was himself "a small, reserved gentleman, quiet and unostentatious." His view of nature was severe and, even in the scenes of tropical waters, brilliant in color, indicative of his belief that man himself is nothing in comparison to the vastness of the ocean. Homer's lofty point of view found fewer admirers than had his earlier, more easily fathomed works but he was not without recognition
even before his death, in 1910, and is today ranked as one of the finest of the world's watercolorists.