Boston Public Library

Winslow Homer Illustrations

The Christmas-tree
Detail from: The Christmas-tree
Winslow Homer was born in Boston in 1836, the second of three sons of Henrietta Benson and Charles Savage Homer. His father, a hardware importer, and his mother, an amateur watercolorist, encouraged his early interest in art. Homer had to piece together his artistic training as no art schools existed in the Boston area during his youth. He began by working for the commercial lithographer John H. Bufford, an acquaintance of his father. In 1857, after two years as an apprentice to Bufford, Homer left the firm, rented a studio in the Ballou Publishing House in Boston, and launched his career as a freelance illustrator. His work appeared in Ballou's Pictorial and Harper's Weekly among other weekly magazines.

In 1859, Homer moved to New York, where he continued to freelance for Harper's Weekly, and other publications, while establishing his reputation as a painter. Shortly after his arrival, to further his artistic training, he enrolled in life drawing classes at the National Academy of Design. He also took a month of painting lessons from the French genre and landscape painter Frédéric Rondel (1826–1892).

From 1859 to 1883, he worked from New York for Harper's Weekly, and from October 1861 to May 1862, was one of their Civil War illustrators. He served as a special correspondent to cover the outbreak of the War, attached to the Army of the Potomac. He visited the front several times and observed the daily routine of camp life on the Union side. Homer filled his sketchbook with informal studies of uniforms, weapons and the daily activities of the individual soldiers. His wartime experiences inspired numerous oil paintings, and critical acclaim for this work led to his 1865 election to the National Academy of Design as a full academician.

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