01 May 2023

Winslow Homer: Working Girls

"He has chosen of the least pictorial features of the least pictorial range of scenery and civilization; he has resolutely treated them as if they were pictorial, as if they were every inch as good as Capri or Tangiers; and to reward his audacity, he has incontestably succeeded." - Henry James on Winslow Homer, from "Some Pictures Lately Exhibited." in Galaxy (July 1875)

I was taken with this farm girl's dress, its orderly rows of white dots dominating the center of the picture. The tools on the wall and the baskets and barrel form a pleasing diagonal line that opens the image out from the young girl at its center. And with what deftness the artist delineates the rooster in the lower right corner.  Fresh Eggs nicely illustrates the decorative quality that appeared in Homer's pictures in the 1870s.

Young girls, usually outdoors, working as shepherdesses or dreaming under sheltering trees. Young women, often school teachers, making their way in the post-Civil War world as it slowly opened its doors to female education and independence. Winslow Homer possessed an instinctive sympathy for them all, perhaps influenced by his close relationship with his mother, Henrietta Benson Homer, herself an amateur watercolorist and Homer's first teacher.

Image: Winslow Homer - Fresh Eggs, 1874, watercolor, gouache, and graphite on wove paper, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. 


Hels said...

I imagine that lots of women were older and working in harder labour than this beautiful young lady. Even her outfit displayed a colourful and gentle decorative quality that matched her well groomed hairdo. Winslow Homer was very appealing back in the 1870s.

Jane A Librizzi said...

Hels, when Homer eventually moved to Prout's Neck, Maine, his portrayal of the women there was realistic, rather than pastoral. Life on the coast was hard and sometimes dangerous, a far cry from life on a farm.