Skip to main content

Chester County Press

How painting and photography met in the works of Winslow Homer

11/12/2018 11:45AM ● By J. Chambless

Next week, the Brandywine River Museum of Art will present “Winslow Homer: Photography and the Art of Painting,” exploring the surprising role photography played in the evolving practice of one of America’s most iconic artists.

On view from Nov. 17 to Feb. 17, 2019, the exhibition will feature approximately 50 paintings, prints, watercolors and drawings from all major periods of the artist’s career, as well as a comparable number of photographs collected by Homer.

The show examines the role the relatively new medium of photography played in the evolving practice of one of America’s most iconic artists. It includes noteworthy archival objects, such as two wooden dolls used as models, his palette and two of the three cameras he owned.

As a young artist for Harper’s Weekly during the Civil War, Homer utilized photographs as source material for some of his drawings, including Alexander Gardner’s famous photograph of Lincoln’s first inauguration, which provided Homer with the pictorial information he needed to construct his own detailed view of the event.

This exhibition documents Homer’s post-Civil War travels to newly popular tourist destinations such as the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Catskills and Adirondacks of New York, and Cape Ann in Massachusetts. In his travels he was introduced to a new type of photography, commercially produced views to promote tourism. These photographs captured a moment in time and effects like glare, blur and shadow that the eye might not perceive. Homer quickly understood that photography could provide fresh, immediate perspectives that he could incorporate into his paintings.

During the last three decades of his life, Homer often created compositions of the same subject in different mediums, including painting, printmaking and photography. His use of various media came from his interest in probing the way things look and the challenge of portraying them realistically. Homer often borrowed certain elements – the cropping, the blur of the background and the flatness of the composition – from photographic convention, yet his painting, based on unique optical experiences, was an artistic creation reflective of myriad decisions. To Homer, paintings had the potential to make a subject more clearly understood; photography added to that conversation about how to portray the world around him.

“Homer gave visual form to the American experience in the second half of the 19th century and has been highly influential to generations of artists, including many of those in the Brandywine’s collection,” said Thomas Padon, director of the Brandywine River Museum of Art. “Because of this, 'Winslow Homer: Photography and the Art of Painting' will have particular resonance here, and we are thrilled to be the second and only other destination for this remarkable exhibition.”

An illustrated catalogue published by Yale University Press accompanies the exhibition.


The Brandywine River Museum of Art is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day), and is on Route 1 in Chadds Ford. Admission is $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, $6 for students and children 6 and older, free for children 5 and younger. Call 610-388-2700 or visit www.brandywine.org/museum.


Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Chester County's free newsletter to catch every headline