Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910),
Trooper Meditating Beside a Grave
, ca. 1865
oil on canvas, 16 x 8 inches, 40.64 x 20.32 cm
Gift of Dr. Harold Gifford and Ann Gifford Forbes, 1960.298
Acknowledged today as one of the world’s greatest watercolorists, Winslow Homer grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was apprenticed in his teens to a lithographer in Boston. In 1855 he moved to New York City and attended the National Academy of Design. During this period he made his living as an illustrator for various magazines, chiefly Harper’s Weekly, for whom he served as a pictorial correspondent during the Civil War, participating in several Union campaigns. At about this same time, Homer began painting in oils. His Prisoners from the Front (Metropolitan Museum of Art), completed in 1866, won him immediate acclaim when it was shown at the Exposition Universelle in Paris.
Homer achieved success as an illustrator through his ability to draw quickly and accurately. His sense of the dramatic and direct narrative style carried over into his later paintings. In the 1880s he turned to marine subjects and eventually settled in Maine, where he spent most of the remainder of his life. The small oil by Homer in Joslyn’s collection, Trooper Meditating Beside a Grave, may have been intended as a study for a larger work and was itself based on an earlier pencil sketch. Dated to about 1865, it calls the viewer’s attention to the real cost of the bitter struggle between the States.