The Easel

20th September 2022

Storms, sharks and rippling bodies – but was Winslow Homer lost at sea?

Homer, a household name in the US, is little known in Britain. Does a “magnificent” survey in London bring the usual acclaim? Not really. Homer’s naturalist scenes were often unresolved. Will the sailor survive the shipwreck? Are soldiers at war always heroic? But, what to American eyes adds tension fails to impress this writer. “Its difficult, today, to get excited about this overly-explanatory visual quality. In general, there’s too much boyish, adventuresome melodrama, and insufficient mystery.

Albert Bierstadt unveiled the epic vistas of the American West

Manifest destiny was the idea that settler expansion across the American continent was but one more step toward American greatness. A young Bierstadt saw himself as just the artist to paint this vision. His landscapes of the West were huge, immensely popular, but appear now to express a “dream of conquest”. Railroad magnates loved them, but an observant Mark Twain thought them too much – all those silvery mountains, clouds and sunlight were “considerably more beautiful than the original”.