When visiting Prout’s Neck, right away you know you are somewhere special, a peninsula surrounded by water, a harbor on one side and the rocky ocean coast on the other. It is a place where you can become secluded if you choose and take in Maine’s nature at it’s best. It is a place you can paint.
I had the opportunity to visit the studio of a preeminent figure in American art, Winslow Homer, who was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1836 and later settled to this beautiful surrounding. You can almost picture the artist with easel perched on the shore, creating one of his astounding images. I was disappointed to find out that this never happened. Winslow Homer was a studio painter. To be a studio painter of his magnitude, you could only be a gifted observer, a lover of the visual.
Winslow Homer started out young working in a print shop, later illustrated for Harper’s Weekly during the Civil War. The war had a great impact on his life, as he was right there in the midst of it.
I had the opportunity to take some items out of a home for auction where Homer stayed for a short time during this conflict. He had graced the walls of an attic bedroom with dozens of battle narratives, all in graphite. I strongly suggested to the owners of the property, to have the plaster wall professionally removed and donate it to a museum for all to enjoy. As far as I know, it still remains the same.
Homer was a smart man who knew how to market his work, and was very involved in his shows, and figured out his most profitable genre. He produced a large body of work, yet less in comparison to many of his contemporaries. In this sense, most Homer scholars believe that there is no unknown paintings to be found. I still think there may be a few works out there. Purportedly an authentic Homer was bought about 7 years ago at the Alameda Point Antiques Faire in California, for a mere $1,000 (according to the show promoter).
I do agree with scholars that all Homer’s major works are known to exist, mostly in museums. In 1998, Bill Gates shook the art world when he bought one of Homer’s masterpieces, ‘Lost on the Grand Banks’ for $36 million. As far as I know, this is a record sale for American art. French artist, Paul Cezanne’s ‘Card Players’ holds the title of a world record painting of $273 million.
At the Homer’s studio, I had the opportunity to meet and record a podcast with Mark Bessire, the director of the Portland Museum of Art. Mark is passionate about Winslow homer, and has an impressive knowledge of the artist. Please listen to the interview here.
Winslow Homer died at Prout’s Neck in September, 1910, the beautiful place where he painted and called home.
by Martin Willis
Gemr Community Manager