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Homer, Winslow (1836-1910)  
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A studio photograph, made while they were in Paris, mimics the conventions of marriage portraits, as do so many photographic portraits of male friends of this period. Kelsey inscribed the back of the photograph with the names "Damon and Pythias," famous ancient Greek heroes and lovers.

In the 1890s, Homer remembered their friendship in the humorous and erotically suggestive drawing "Albert Kelsey riding a giant turtle in the Bahamas."

Homer's closest companion in the final years of his life was an African-American man, Lewis Wright, who worked as his servant and lived at his Prout's Neck, Maine estate from 1895 to 1910. There are indications that some of Homer's acquaintances were disconcerted by the apparent closeness of his friendship with Wright. While most "negative" reactions involved race, other "unmentionable" factors may also have been involved.

Images of Male Bonding, Depictions of Women

Throughout his career, Homer created images that celebrated diverse aspects of male friendships. Thus, he depicted soldiers, unified in melancholy longing for peacetime home life (Home, Sweet Home, 1863); wilderness guides enjoying the beauties of nature (Two Guides, 1871); and fishermen laboring together (The Herring Net, 1885) and coping with dangerous storms (The Signal of Distress, 1890).

The glorification of "male bonding" was a prominent theme in nineteenth-century art and literature, but it is hard to find any comparisons in the work of his male contemporaries for Homer's sensitive depictions of the pleasure and strength that women derive from one another.

Thus, he depicted middle-class women relaxing together on pleasant summer days (The Croquet Match, 1868; and Promenade on the Beach, 1880) and strong women, united in their work (Mussel Gatherers, 1882). Homer even created a notably romantic image of two women dancing together on a moonlit beach (Buffalo Girls, 1890).

By contrast, Homer's depictions of male/female couples often evoke the loneliness and emotional distance of physically close individuals (for example, All in the Gay and Golden Weather, wood engraving, 1869). He also expressed the dangers posed to women by men in images such as To the Rescue (1907), which shows a man approaching a female couple with a noose.

Throughout the 1870s, Homer created numerous images of a solitary female figure, which surprised and disconcerted critics because of the despair and suppressed tension which they conveyed (such as Reading, 1877; and Blackboard, 1877). Dark, murky backgrounds (as in Shall I Tell Your Fortune?, 1876) intensify the foreboding sense of mystery which these works seem to embody.

It has been demonstrated that the red-haired "woman," depicted in many of these, actually was a boy, whom Homer hired as a model. The documented identification of the model helps to explain the "masculine" qualities of the figure, which also disturbed contemporary viewers.

Most scholars continue to deny the relevance of the model's gender and insist that the series represents Homer's frustration about a failed romance with a woman. The series does contain various symbolic references to love, but it seems possible that Homer may have been expressing despair about the suppression of same-sex romance in peacetime American society.

Whatever this series may represent, Homer does seem to have undergone some sort of personal crisis in the later 1870s. It may be coincidental, but it is interesting to note that laws against began to be more rigorously enforced in New York at this time.

Homer's Later Career

Homer precipitously abandoned New York in 1881. He lived for the next two years in Tynemouth, England, a small fishing village on the harsh North Sea coast. There, he created austere and deeply moving images of monumentally scaled figures, gazing at the open sea (Inside the Bar, Tynemouth, 1883) and struggling to earn a living from it (Watching the Tempest, 1881).

When he returned to America, Homer moved permanently to Prout's Neck, Maine, also an isolated coastal town, where he continued to depict individuals, heroically working and struggling against storms and other difficulties (for example, The Fog Warning, 1885).

Homer shipped his plates back and forth to his printer in New York, as he sought to create large prints that had the same severe, heroic power as his paintings. In some cases, he depicted the same subject in both a painting and a print--as he did, for example, for both Life Line, (1884), and Eight Bells, (1887). In contrast to the practice of many nineteenth century painters, the prints differed in at least some respects from the paintings and attest to Homer's bold exploration of the possibilities of the print medium.

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