Winslow Homer and the Camera: Photography and the Art of Painting

17 November 2018–17 February 2019

Exhibition Overview


Winslow Homer, The Nooning, c. 1872.

A little-recognized aspect of the work of Winslow Homer—one of America’s most iconic artists—is the relationship between his painting and photography, and the role of the relatively new medium on his approach to image making. In 2014, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA) was given an English-made camera that once belonged to Winslow Homer. This object was a catalyst for Winslow Homer and the Camera: Photography and the Art of Painting, an exhibition organized by BCMA Co-Director Frank H. Goodyear and Bowdoin College Assistant Professor of Art History Dana E. Byrd. The Brandywine River Museum of Art will be the exhibition’s second and only other venue.

Winslow Homer and the Camera: Photography and the Art of Painting will examine the roles photography played in Homer’s evolving artistic practice. As a young artist for Harper’s Weekly during the Civil War, Homer utilized photographs as source material for some of his drawings. Alexander Gardner’s famous photograph of Lincoln’s first inauguration, for example, provided Homer with the pictorial information he needed to construct his own detailed view of the event. For his Civil War paintings, such as Sharpshooter (oil on canvas, 1863), graphic war photography helped him to think more deeply about what he’d seen, and about how to combine personal sight and engagement with a wide range of sources for composition development.

Winslow Homer and the Camera: Photography and the Art of Painting is drawn from the BCMA’s incomparable holdings of Homer’s art and archival materials, and from more than twenty major lending institutions, including the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Portland Museum of Art, and the Wadsworth Atheneum. The exhibition will feature approximately fifty photographs created or collected by Homer and approximately fifty paintings, prints, watercolors, and drawings from all major periods of the artist’s career. A selection of the artist’s Civil War-themed images and work from his activity in the Adirondacks, England and Prout’s Neck will be considered in relation to Homer’s interaction with photography. A catalogue published by Yale University Press will accompany the exhibition.

(Photo courtesy of Allen Phillips/Wadsworth Atheneum.)

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