Even in his own day, Winslow Homer was celebrated as “America’s Master in Watercolor.” His technical virtuosity in this challenging medium, and his intuitive understanding of the artistic possibilities it offers, have influenced generations of artists since then. His example also encouraged the growing appreciation of watercolor as a serious independent art form beginning in his lifetime. The fresh, spontaneous, light-filled effects associated with watercolor indeed helped to shape an authentic identity for American Art.
Homer never received much formal artistic training. Instead, he learned to draw as an apprentice lithographer and then by working as an illustrator for the popular press. He taught himself to paint in oils in the 1860s, making a name for himself with striking portrayals of the Civil War. It was not until 1873, when he was thirty-seven year old, that he began to use watercolor for independent works of art. From that time, the medium played a central role in his artistic practice and he applied himself with great seriousness and deliberation to learning its secrets. An avid angler, Homer loved to travel to destinations where he could work and fish in relative privacy. Portable and quick-drying, his watercolors went with him wherever he went, allowing him to transcribe the specific moods and sensations of the places he visited. Some of his most expressive images, as well as his most technically innovative works, were created in watercolor.