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Homer initially earned his living as a freelance illustrator, which attuned him to the media demand for pictures and stories of rural childhood in the post–Civil War era. Crossing the Pasture was probably inspired in part by the public’s nostalgic desires, but the painting is also a reflection of the artist’s own cherished memories of his youth with his brothers. The wholesome country boys are an idealization of brotherhood, the older one standing protectively between the alert bull and his younger sibling. The younger boy’s bare feet symbolize his closeness to nature, making him appear more vulnerable and innocent. Standing together against the green hills, the boys serve as redemptive symbols of hope for the country’s united future after a war that pitted brother against brother.

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