Reflections on Winslow Homer

July 1, 2009
Elizabeth Jones wrote in Winslow Homer: The Nature of Observation, about learned scholar’s concerns about Winslow Homer’s sexuality, several “have tried psychoanalytic approaches to Homer’s sexuality.” She wished to stay away from this melodrama, to focus instead on his art and impact on the world … But I think it is important because to deny his sexuality you can’t understand his art.

For all of WH’s inner angst, and he must have had inner fights with his emotions, morality and ability to live with his sexuality in a straight-laced overly policed society. He answered his sexuality with severe closeting and displays of extreme masculine manliness. He became a “Hemingway man” before Hemingway’s writings and lifestyle existed; a Theodore Roosevelt style man. WH’s projection of manly qualities were exaggerated and I find it hard to remove the mind image of him fishing in a starched white Egyptian cotton shirt complete with bowtie. WH hid his sexuality in routine and order, becoming as he aged, more and more sought after by the art world and admiring public, a law unto himself. Battling his demons within the confines of religions, political and social mores of Yankee society and New York art critic circles, shut him down even further and pushed him into a relentless pursuit of masterly perfectionism that wasn’t rivaled in his time. Without this outlet and safe living environment, WH would not have existed; living in a time period that glorified freedom and the pursuit of wealth, WH was neither free nor content.

I believe that WH used his art to normalize his appearance to the world. His degree of draftsmanship and repeated use of images in different backgrounds/scenarios let him produce an unusual amount of artwork throughout his lifetime. His ability to control and market his work was remarkable: he was not at the mercy of trend and fluctuating finances once he was in full work-mode, he was a gentleman-businessman-artist, and he was damn good in all three areas.

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