Winslow Homer
American, 1836-1910

Children Sitting on a Fence, 1874

Various graphites, heightened with opaque white watercolor, on medium weight, slightly textured gray wove paper
193 x 239 mm
Signed recto, lower right corner, in graphite: "W.H. 74"
Inscribed verso, lower left corner, in graphite: "Original drawing by Winslow Homer"
The Charles Deering Collection, 1927.3522

Children Sitting on a Fence

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During the years of Reconstruction (1865–1876), children and childhood were popular subjects in art and literature, representing both the nation’s hope for the future and its nostalgia for the simpler, more innocent era that preceded the great social and economic upheavals of the Civil War. Homer understood and fostered this conception of childhood; small groups of children in rural settings dominate his work of the early 1870s. The graphite study Children Sitting on a Fence, on which the watercolor Children on a Fence (1874) is based, shows how Homer used monochrome drawings to study figure relationships and to map out the primary patterns of light and shadow. Although the small figure group of children poised on the upper rail of a fence remains essentially the same between the drawing and the watercolor, the white highlights on the children’s hats and bodies in the drawing differ from the highlights Homer employed in the watercolor, suggesting that his treatment of light was sometimes improvised away from the scene. His preparatory drawings served as guides but did not prevent experimentation in the studio.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Selected Drawings from the Charles Deering Collection," March 24–July 1, 1928, no cat.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Water Colors and Drawings by Winslow Homer," October 14–December 4, 1944 (Gallery 13), no cat.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light," February 16-May 11, 2008, pp. 42 (ill.), 43, 49, 92, cat. by Martha Tedeschi and Kristi Dahm.

Publication History

Bulletin of The Art Institute of Chicago 22 (1928), p. 66.

Gordon Hendricks, The Life and Work of Winslow Homer (New York, 1979), pp. 107 and 285, fig. CL–97.

Margaret C. Conrads, “Children on a Fence, 1874,” in Nancy Mowll Mathews (ed.), American Dreams: American Art to 1950 in the Williams College Museum of Art (New York, 2001), pp. 66-68 (ill.).

Lloyd Goodrich and Abigail Booth Gerdts, Record of Works by Winslow Homer. Vol. 2: 1867 through 1876 (New York, 2005), cat. 527 (ill.).

Ownership History

Given by Mrs. Chauncey McCormick (née Marion Deering; 1886–1965) and Mrs. Richard E. Danielson (née Barbara Deering; 1888–1987) to the Art Institute, 1927.