Homer's Tool: Bowdoin Watercolor Box

Among the items found in Homer’s studio are two Winsor and Newton “Japanned tin boxes” containing moist watercolor cakes. The container’s functional design and the qualities of the cakes affected the way in which Homer mixed and applied watercolor for this work.

Each box has two hinged panels that open on either side of the central section, which can hold as many as 20 cakes in white porcelain pans. One panel is divided into three shallow troughs for preparing quantities of wash, while the other is a flat palette for mixing touches of color into desired hues. The white, enameled surface allowed the user to evaluate colors as they would appear on white paper. Homer might have employed the troughs to dilute blue, pink, and yellow washes with water to obtain the airy, layered tones seen in the distant hills.

Watercolor box owned by Winslow Homer, manufactured by Winsor and Newton, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine, gift of the Homer Family, 1964.69.191.