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The exhibition of _Home, Sweet Home_ in the spring of 1863 auspiciously marked Winslow Homer's debut as a painter. The painting was enthusiastically admired. "Winslow Homer is one of those few young artists who make a decided impression of their power with their very first contributions," a critic observed. "He at this moment wields a better pencil, models better, colors better, than many" [1] more established artists.


_Home, Sweet Home_  was a remarkable technical achievement for someone, like Homer, who was largely self-taught. In this, one of his very first paintings, Homer's contemporaries were able not only to take clear measure of his large artistic gifts, but also to sense qualities of mind and character that were important parts of what one of them called the "promise of a worthy art future." [2] They saw those qualities in the "delicacy and strength of emotion" [3] of _Home, Sweet Home_ , its "real feeling" [4] and lack of sentimentality. They saw them, too, in its directness, and in its intelligence: "There is no clap-trap about it. Whatever of force is in the picture is not the result of trickery, and is not merely surface work, not admitting of examination, but painstaking labor directed by thought." [5] And they saw them in its modernity: It is "inspired by a fact of to-day." [6]


Two union soldiers (infantrymen, as the insignia on their caps show) listen as the regimental band plays "Home, Sweet Home." In what might almost be a description of Homer's painting, and of the kind of experience Homer himself must have had when he visited the front in 1861 and 1862, the Union general Nelson A. Miles described an occurrence in the valley of the Rappahannock:


_Late in the afternoon our bands were accustomed to play the most spirited martial and national airs, as "Columbia," "America," "E. Pluribus Unum," "The Star-spangled Banner," etc., to be answered along the Confederate lines by bands playing, with equal enthusiasm, "The Bonny Blue Flag," "Southern Rights," and "Dixie." These demonstrations frequently aroused the hostile sentiments of the two armies, yet the animosity disappeared when at the close some band would strike up that melody which comes nearest the hearts of all true men, "Home, Sweet Home," and every band within hearing would join in that sacred anthem with unbroken accord and enthusiasm._ [7]


The title of Homer's painting evokes the "bitter moment of home-sickness and love-longing" [8] that the song inspired in the soldiers. The title also refers to the soldiers' "home," shown with all of its domestic details--a small pot on a smoky fire, a tin plate holding a single piece of hardtack--which Homer, who did the cooking and washing when he was at the front, knew intimately, and which, with surely intended irony, are very far from "sweet."


(Text by Nicolai Cikovsky Jr., published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, _Art for the Nation_,  2000)

Details

  • Title: Home, Sweet Home
  • Creator: Winslow Homer
  • Date Created: c. 1863
  • Physical Dimensions: overall: 54.6 x 41.9 cm (21 1/2 x 16 1/2 in.) framed: 77.2 x 64 x 7.6 cm (30 3/8 x 25 3/16 x 3 in.)
  • Provenance: Possibly Samuel Putnam Avery, New York, possibly 1863 to 1867;[1] (his sale, Leeds Art Galleries, New York, 4-5 February 1867, 2nd day, no. 59);[2] Mrs. Alexander H. Shephard [or Shepherd], New York;[3] (Howard Young Galleries, New York); (M. Knoedler & Co., New York), in 1918.[4] George M.L. LaBranche, New York, by c. 1920, certainly by 1944 until at least 1950.[5] (M. Knoedler & Co., New York), in 1954.[6] Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Shaye, Detroit, by 1957;[7] (sale, Sotheby's, New York, 30 May 1984, no. 19, bought in); consigned 29 August 1984 to (Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York); sold 1 February 1985 to private collection; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, New York, 5 June 1997, no. 12); purchased by (Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York) for NGA.[8] [1] The painting was marked "for sale" in the catalogue of the 1863 National Academy of Design exhibition. According to "The Lounger. The National Academy of Design," _Harper's Weekly_ 7, no. 331 (2 May 1863): 274, the painting was labeled "sold" by the second day of the exhibition. The buyer was possibly Avery. See also: Lloyd Goodrich, edited and expanded by Abigail Booth Gerdts. _Record of Works by Winslow Homer_. New York, 2005: 1:no. 189. [2] The first day of the Avery sale auctioned the "private collection of oil paintings by American artists, made...during the last fifteen years..." _Home, Sweet Home_ was sold on the second day, and appears in the "Catalogue of oil paintings, being the balance of the stock consigned to S. P. Avery." Avery seems to have owned the painting only in order to sell it; it was not part of his personal collection. [3] The name is spelled Shepherd in the 1984 Sotheby's sale catalogue, and Shephard in the 1997 Christie's sale catalogue. [4] According to Judd Tully and Jo Ann Lewis, "National Gallery Buys Rare Homer," _The Washington Post_, 20 June 1997: C1, C4, the painting "had its first recorded gallery sale in 1918, when it sold for $350 at M. Knoedler & Co. in New York." [5] Goodrich and Gerdts 2005 give the "c. 1920" date. La Branche lent the painting to exhibitions at both the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Worcester Art Museum in 1944, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1950. [6] Goodrich and Gerdts 2005 include Knoedler's ownership in 1954. [7] Goodrich and Gerdts 2005 give the 1957 date for the beginning of the Shaye's ownership; they lent the painting to several exhibitions, the first in 1958. [8] The full provenance was based on the catalogue entry in Marc Simpson, _Winslow Home Paintings of the Civil War_, exh. cat., The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1988: 142-147, and expanded with information from the NGA curator's acquisition proposal, a 17 June 1997 letter from Stuart Feld (both in NGA curatorial files), and sources referred to in previous notes.
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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