DOVER — The Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover, will be host a major exhibition of 220 engravings by 19th-century American artist Winslow Homer. The exhibition “Winslow Homer: From Poetry to Fiction — The Engraved Works” opens today through Oct. 10.
The Biggs Museum will hold an opening reception today from 5 to 7 p.m. Light refreshments will be served outdoors to allow for a safe social gathering - weather permitting. Masks are required to be worn inside the museum. To register, visit here or call 302-674-2111.
Mr. Homer quickly developed the ability to capture the public’s interest in the engraved works that he produced for the pictorial press. The subscribership for Harper’s Weekly and Ballou’s Pictorial increased to over 600,000 weekly readers. His art reached an estimated three million people by 1870. When he stopped making engravings in 1874 to paint full time, he was already famous and exhibiting his work on a regular basis both nationally and internationally.
The exhibition is accompanied by historic photographs, as well as mementos of the Civil War, including an original letter written by a young Confederate soldier from the trenches; an encased cameo with a tintype image of a loved one that a soldier could carry into battle as he faced the ultimate sacrifice that he could make for his country; and song sheets for “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh,” that became popular among those living in northern states. Didactic wall text and photo panels expand the knowledge of Mr. Homer’s art with social meaning in the 1860s.
The exhibit is grouped into two major categories: works that he produced prior to the Civil War, and those that followed. However there is a sharp difference in how these works are interpreted and presented. Works that were made for commercial use or for storytelling purposes such as novelettes or short stories are in one category, separated from what most historians consider the more serious works that relate Mr. Homer’s paintings are in another.
The latter group of works include such iconic works as “The Sharpshooter,” “The Morning Bell,” “Snap the Whip,” “The Summit of Mount Washington,” “The Veteran in a New Field,” “The Dinner Horn, On the Bluff at Long Branch” and many others.
Equally important to many, are book illustrations and the honest record of what took place in American history — both the good and the more challenging issues of the times. Among the rarest works are the illustrations that Mr. Homer was commissioned to make for John Easton Cooke titled “Surry of Eagle’s Nest” in 1866. Mr. Cooke served in the Confederate States Army under Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart’s cavalry command. The book was intended to serve as a biographical novel written by Mr. Cooke on the life of Gen. Stonewall Jackson. The four illustrations created by Mr. Homer are among the best of any artist of the era or genre.
The largest retrospective exhibition of Mr. Homer’s art was curated and organized by Albert Ten Eyck Gardner, associate curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1958. The exhibition included 244 works comprising of oil paintings, watercolors, wood engravings, etchings, and decorated ceramic tiles.
Not included in the retrospective were illustrations that Mr. Homer made for poets and novelists such as his stories for children, such as “Twilight Stories,” written by Eliza Lee Cabot, using the pseudonym Mrs. Follen.
These works are included in the current exhibition and the stories are as relevant and inspiring today as they were more than 160 years ago.
As Mr. Homer’s reputation as an artist grew, so did his span of work. He produced portraits of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fletcher Webster, Samuel Masury, and Captain Robert B. Forbes among others. Some of his models included actors and actresses, military, and political figures, including the Honorable Stephen A. Douglas and even President Abraham Lincoln on the day of his inauguration.
The work that Mr. Homer produced for poets came about largely through his close friendship with the American poet William Cullen Bryant. Homer created illustrations to complement the verses of John T. Trowbridge, John Greenleaf Whittier, William Barnes, Lucy Larcom and others. Through his connections with publishers he also received commissions to produce works for leading poets in Great Britain, including three illustration for Alfred Lord Tennyson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
In 1867, at the age of 31, he was selected to exhibit two of his paintings at the Exposition International de Paris, 1867. In December 1866, he sailed from Boston to France where he spent 11 months living in Montmartre with a friend from Belmont, Albert Warren Kelsey. The two shared a studio and traveled to nearby rural countryside villages with other American artist to paint rustic farm scenes, probably inspired by the exhibition of paintings and drawings by Jean François Millet on view in the main gallery at the Exposition International.
In 1875, Mr. Homer produced his last two wood engravings on the eve of the American Centennial celebration. The first image was conceived in the summer of 1875 while Mr. Homer was visiting Boston, making a historic scene that he titled “The Battle of Bunker Hill—Watching the Fight from Copp’s Hill, Boston.” The second image was produced when Homer was visiting Hurley, New York, a farming community in Ulster County just 90 miles north of Manhattan along the Hudson River Valley. This is the engraving “The Family.”
There has never been a factual biography written about Winslow Homer. Recently, since 2015, there have been many new discoveries about those he knew, what he was doing and where he was doing it.
The most current information available is now published and well documented in the wall label text that accompanies this very large exhibition, documenting one-third of Homer’s creative career, which is thought to also be the most interesting, and now, perhaps the most revealing period in his life.
“Winslow Homer: From Poetry to Fiction is organized and circulated by Contemporary and Modern Print Exhibitions, Laguna Niguel, California.
The Biggs Museum is at 406 Federal St.