Winslow Homer - The Obtuse Bard (draft 20150402) screen 128
This is detail from a watercolor painted by Winslow Homer's mother. I see three faces, three boys with what looks like fur hats. My red markings on the image are very thin. This image is photographed from Hendricks. Unfortunately, I have not found a better source for the image. The three circled images are very similar to images I see in various other works of Winslow Homer starting with Farm Scene 1847 to and including Driftwood 1910. In my photo, only the center boy is sufficiently detailed to stand by itself. The other two are less distinct and only imagined/recognized because of the context of the grouping with the center boy. (I also see other items in this work, not presented here.)

Henrietta grew up in Cambridge and lived there until 1833 when she married Charles S. Homer and moved to Boston. She moved back to Cambridge with her family in 1842. The Homer's had been members of the Bowdoin Street Church in Boston, probably until 1848 when The Cambridge First Church showed them becoming full members by transfer. Even if she had not been an artist, it is possible that she may have known Allston personally and may have even had direct experience with Allston perceiving illusions in Nature. I think it has been sufficiently established that seeing visual illusions in Nature, was a desired practice among Allston and his associates..

After the evening church service at the Congregational Church in Cambridge, which Allston often attended although he was an Episcopalian, since his wife, Martha Dana Allston, was a member. The nearest Episcopal Church at the time was in Boston. Allston would lead his friends and visitors out to a point about a third of a mile southeast of the building, and bid them to admire the sunset, repeating lines from Sir Walter Scotts poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Canto Second,
If thou wouldst view fair Melrose aright,
Go visit it by the pale moonlight.
(see Moses F. Sweetser, Allston, Boston, Houghton Osgood, 1879, p. 133 ff.) Note: Melrose Abbey is well known for its ghosts.
Viewing the sunset is one thing, but Allston's connection of that activity to Melrose Abbey, which had an association with ghosts over many centuries, adds significantly more significance to his repeating those specific lines. It seems reasonable to put it this way: After church in the evening, Allston would take people out to "see things" in the sunset. Richard Dana, Jr. wrote that his Uncle Allston believed in the reality of the spirit world. There is overwhelming evidence of this. Here is but one. Consider Allston's poem,

On the Group of the Three Angels before the Tent of Abraham, by Raffaelle, in the Vatican by Washington Allston
O, now I feel as though another sense,
From heaven descending, had informed my soul;
I feel the pleasurable, full control
Of Grace, harmonious, boundless, and intense.
In thee, celestial Group, embodied lives
The subtile mystery, that speaking gives
Itself resolved; the essences combined
Of Motion ceaseless, Unity complete.
Borne like a leaf by some soft eddying wind,
Mine eyes, impelled as by enchantment sweet,
From part to part with circling motion rove,
Yet seem unconscious of the power to move;
From line to line through endless changes run,
O'er countless shapes, yet seem to gaze on One.

Because there are also many examples of images of "what the thing is not" in Winslow Homer's childhood art, because I see the "faces with hats children" in Winslow's mother's work that are very similar to images in Winslow's works beginning with 1847 (examples follow), because the Dana's, including Allston's widow, attended the same small church as Winslow Homer and his family, and because his mother was likely to had knowledge of Allston's views about art, I believe that Winslow Homer saw and painted such images most likely because of his mother's influence. Also, it was during the period before 1850 that Richard Henry Dana, Jr. was living at Allston's house with his Aunt, Allston's widow. During that time period, Dana Jr was editing Allston's Lectures on Art. Dana Jr. may also have had a direct influence on Winslow.


Copyright 1992-2015 Peter Bueschen
The presentation is available at The Obtuse Bard website