Beach at Newport,
c.1850-60, John Frederick Kensett, (1816-1872), oil on canvas,
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, reproduction print.
Ship St. Mary’s Entering Harbor at Mobile,
Evans, ( ),oil on canvas, Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York,
visited Newport in 1854, when it was just reviving as a summer
resort. In Newport, as in the other popular vacation spots he
visited, the summer residents provided important patronage. For
these buyers, the artist created idyllic scenes to brighten
their urban homes. Like many of Kensett’s works, this painting
is composed of simple elements – horizontal bands of sky above
and water below, separated by the horizon – and includes a
traditional framing device – typically, here, rocks and trees.
Kensett liked to call attention to physical details, emphasizing
the shoreline’s rocks and sand. The two small figures initially
entice the viewer into the painting and establish a human scale,
but as the eye is led above and beyond, the sky assumes a
greater importance. In contrast to the land and water, with
their clear distinctions, the gray sky is cloudless and
|This was painted in 1860 and is
the St. Mary’s as it entered the harbor at Mobile, Alabama.
During the Civil War, many naval vessels were involved in a
battle in this harbor. St. Mary’s is under full sail on a choppy
windy day. There are many other ships in the distance and some
porpoises frolicking in the water ahead of the ship. Painting
ships involved a lot of skill and knowledge about ships and
rigging. Evans was a marine and historical painter and was very
active during this period.
- Fog Warning,
1885, Winslow Homer, (1836-1910), Museum
of Fine Arts, Boston, reproduction print.
1894, Homer, Winslow (1836-1910),
Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA, reproduction print.
|Homer was born in Boston of an old
New England family. As a young man he was apprenticed to a leading
lithographer in Boston. He moved to New York in 1859 and was hired
by Harper’s Weekly. He covered the Civil War for Harper’s,
making several trips to the battle front. At war’s end, he
concentrated on painting. He studied for a short time in Europe,
and on his return settled in New York. He painted idyllic scenes
of American life. After another trip abroad in 1881, he settled in
Maine, where he spent the rest of his life painting subjects from
outdoor life. In the isolated community of Prout’s Neck, Maine, he
arrived at the subject which would concern him for the rest of his
life – man’s struggle with his environment.
The Fog Warning
was based on Homer’s own experiences. He is believed to have
made a trip with a fishing fleet to the Grand Banks of Nova Scotia
sometime in 1884, where he recorded his observations in a series
of sketches, some of which were later used for his oils. Homer
originally called this Halibut Fishing, but before
exhibiting it in 1885 he changed the title to draw attention to
the impending danger represented by the oncoming fog.
The sturdy dory is the material counterpart of the fog bank.
The fisherman, rowing steadily parallels the horizon with his
extended oars; the dory reveals the catch and emphasizes the
critical distance between the fisherman and the safety of the ship
on the horizon. Yet the sea is relatively placid. The occasional
white cap is nothing more than fresh breezes. Here, nature is not
violent, but subtle like loneliness and fatigue – it is the
fisherman’s constant adversary.
Homer, (1836-1910), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y.,
|Up until about 1890, Homer had
always included figures in his paintings, and only at this time
did he begin the series of pure and elemental paintings of the sea
alone which became his best known work. A big wave is gathering
itself to break on the rocks. Cold white sunlight is reflected on
its crest and on the sea, but a gray fog bank is creeping in,
obscuring sky and horizon, giving the sea itself a cold, ominous
color. Homer paints the wave with bulk and power, representing all
of nature’s force. For Homer, the sea was changeable,
death-dealing, life giving, and above all, eternal. In painting
the sea again and again, he sought the true relationship of man
Lighthouse at Two Lights,
1929, Edward Hopper, (1882-1967), The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y., reproduction print.
|The entire color scheme is
intensified by the slash of red across the hull of the boat. When
Gulf Stream was first exhibited, some people found its
subject brutal. Homer, who generally kept himself aloof from his
critics, became embroiled in the controversy of the work. "The
criticisms…by old women and others are noted," he wrote
sarcastically. "You may inform these people that the Negro did not
starve to death. He was not eaten by the sharks. The waterspout
did not hit him, and he was rescued by a passing ship."
Clipper Ship Dreadnought off Tuskar Light,
, Nathaniel Currier,
(1813-1887), lithograph, reproduction print.
|Edward Hopper was born in Nyack,
New York in 1882. His family was comfortable, but not rich. His
father owned a dry-goods store in the pretty river town not far
from New York City. His parents did not oppose Hopper’s intention
to become an artist, but their prudence required that he turn his
talent in a useful direction. At age 17, high school graduate,
Eddie Hopper, began a daily commute to the Correspondence School
of Illustrating on W. 34th Street. Despite a trip to
Europe, he continued to work at his own brand of Realism. He was
sensitive to human emotions and was acutely aware of the
loneliness of life in the big cities. He painted America from the
inside out, concentrating on its feelings rather than the visibly
evident. He closely observed the sadness of cheap hotel rooms,
empty diners, cool nights, lonely people, and cheerless houses.
Hopper traveled from place to place and made mental notes of what
he saw, later to put them together to express his feelings on
Hopper spent many summers on Cape Cod and in
Maine along the coast. In 1930, he bought a place in Truro, Cape
Cod and spent six months of every year there.
The Whale Fishery,
c. 1850, Currier and Ives,
lithograph, reproduction print.
|Nathaniel Currier, born in 1813 in
Roxbury, MA, was apprenticed at an early age to William and John
Pendleton, the Boston printers who were the first men in this
country to make use of the new process of lithography. In 1834,
Currier left their employ to start a business for himself in New
This print commemorated the passage of the clipper ship,
Dreadnought, made in 13 days 11 hours to Liverpool, England. It
was dedicated to the Commander of the ship. The artist is unknown.
|James Merrit Ives joined Currier’s
firm in 1852 as a bookkeeper and became a partner and general
manager five years later. Until its demise in 1907, the firm
produced approximately 10 million prints involving some 7,000 or
more different titles. The small folios retailed for 20 cents, the
larger ones from $1.50 to $3.00.
This print, one of eleven
whaling subjects Currier and Ives issued, is based on an 1840
aquatint by Frederic Martens after the painting by Louis Garneray,
a French marine artist who spent some time in America.
The capture of whales for food dates from at least the 14th
century. In many countries, whaling on a large scale did not begin
until the 17th century, when the use of whale oil for
lighting became so important. In America, southern New England
became the whaling center, particularly Nantucket and later New
Bedford. In 1846, the American whaling fleet numbered 736 vessels;
eleven years later New Bedford alone had 329 whale ships.
The romance of whaling was deeply ingrained in the American
spirit. The idea of six men rowing out in a small whaleboat to
harpoon and kill the larges mammal existing had to capture the
imagination. However, the life of whaling men was not an easy one.
Usually they would be away for months at a time, often for as long
as eight years. Disease and accidents took their toll. Daily life
on board was very harsh, and the stench of the blubber being
rendered into oil after each catch was a fact one never became
accustomed to. With the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania in
1859 and methods of refining it for lighting fuel, the need for
whale oil became less vital, and the industry diminished markedly
during the following years.
|Scrimshaw is a
distinctly American art form originating on the whaling ships of
the 19th century. The sailors often had weeks where
they would be waiting for another whale to chase after. During
these downtimes, carving the ivory whalebones was a way to relieve
boredom. Some carvings were very ornate and some were very simple.
The pictures would be scraped into the ivory with a knife, then
ink was poured over the entire area. When the excess ink was wiped
off the surface, the carved lines would hold onto the ink, showing
the picture. Sometimes the ivory was carved into tableware such as
spoons or forks. Ivory hair combs were also very popular.
Today, it is illegal to sell ivory
products across state lines, because sources of ivory are
endangered animals – whales, elephants, and rhinoceroses. The
scrimshaw and other ivory items on the market today usually come
from the large stockpiles of ivory taken during the years whaling
was legal in the United States.