Winslow Homer, The Obtuse Bard 
Fully Understood?


1.      Beatty in Lloyd Goodrich, Winslow Homer, 1944, p. 217. His recollections are printed as an appendix to Lloyd Goodrich's 1944 Homer biography.

2.      Beatty in Goodrich, ibid, 1944, p. 226.

3.      James Edward Kelly, Papers, Archives of American Art, roll 1876, frame 403.

4.      Edward Verral Lucas, Edwin Austin Abbey, Royal Academician, p. 38 ff.

5.      E. V. Lucas, Ibid, p. 38 ff.

6.      James Edward Kelly Papers, frame 403 ff.

7.      This tally is from a number of sources and also includes William M. Chase, Frank D. Millet, F. Hopkinson Smith, Augustus St. Gaudens, Elihu Vedder, and J. Alden Weir. The book, In Memoriam, A Book of Record Concerning Former Members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters published by the Academy in 1922 contains the most detailed list of the dates of election. Elihu Vedder was not listed in the memorial because he was still alive at the time. An article in The Dial, "The American Academy", (Dec. 6, 1909, Vol XLVII, No. 563) lists Vedder. Tile club member lists come from William Henry Shelton (1840-1932, Archives of American Art, roll 800, frames 376 ff.), Lucas's Abbey biography, chapter 11 in Soria's Vedder biography, and James Kelly Papers (Archives of American Art, roll 1876, frame 1100 ff.)

8.      Lucas, p. 59.

9.      Clark, History of the National Academy of Design 1825-1953, p. 245.

10.  Fabri, History of the American Watercolor Society, p. 88.

11.  Royal Cortissoz, American Artists, p. 195 ff.

12.  Abbey was called "The Chestnut." Abbey's biographer wrote,

"Here let it be stated that every new member of the Tile Club had to drop his own name and assume another but whether he himself chose it or whether it was thrust upon him, I am not sure. More probably it was thrust upon him. Each member having acquired his sobriquet had to design a seal emblematic of it." (Lucas, p. 52.)

"The Obtuse Bard" is mentioned in Laffan's "Tile Club at Work." (p. 404) Homer first seems to have been identified as "The Obtuse Bard" by Goodrich. (1944, p. 61)

13.  Goodrich, ibid, 1944, p. 61.

14.  Hendricks, The Life and Work of Winslow Homer, p. 133. (Try to figure out Hendricks meaning in that statement.)

15.  John Ciardi, "Robert Frost: The Way to the Poem," Edge of Awareness, p. 146.

16.  Vedder is another member of the Tile Club, Century Club, and American Academy of Arts and Letters.

17.  Vedder, p. 219.

18.  Clark, History of the National Academy of Design, p. 138.

19.  Van Wyck Brooks relates a story from Enoch Wood Perry,

"...Perry also had his anecdotes. Once in some far-away past, he had spent a summer with Winslow Homer. They had occupied a two-room cabin on one of the Long Island ocean beaches. They slept in one room and lived on oysters, and threw the shells into the other room. The shells formed a pyramid and gradually slid off into the corners until, by the end of the summer, they choked the room." from Opinions of Oliver Allston, p. 54.

Homer's friends were also a very literary group. Abbey, Homer, and others of his friends did illustrations for many books. Tilers Smith, Laffan, and Kobbe were writers. Homer Martin although not a writer himself, associated with writers and his wife was a writer. As John C. VanDyke wrote of Homer Martin in American Painting (Scribner's, 1919), "Mrs. Martin says she never heard him `talk shop' and that, with several notable exceptions such as LaFarge and Winslow Homer, most of his close friends were people in other professions than painting." (p. 68).

Harvard librarian and historian, John Fiske, makes frequent reference to Winslow Homer's friends Homer Martin, John LaFarge, William Hennessy, William Laffan and Perry in letters to his wife. Fiske was never a member of the Century Club, but he frequently referred to it (from 1872-1899) and Homer Martin (from 1873-1893). Fiske also used the Century Club post office,

"The Century Club is the safest place in the world for letters and as quick as any to reach me. There is a little post office in the Club, everything is carefully looked after and I go there every day." (2/28/1885, The Letters of John Fiske, edited by his daughter Ethel B. Fisk, Macmillan, New York, 1940).

The Century Club was as much a club of writers as painters (see The Century for a history of the Century Club). Albert Kelsey's wife wrote some novels, under the pen name Patience Warren. Kelsey will be discussed latter.

20.  Ibid.

21.  Chase, J. Eastman. "Some Recollections of Winslow Homer."

22.  Louise Hall Tharp. Saint-Gaudens and the Guilded Era, p. 344.

23.  American Academy of Arts and Letters, In Memoriam: A Book of Record Concerning Former Members, p. IX.

24.  James Edward Kelly Papers, frame 406.

25.  Philip Beam, Winslow Homer at Prout's Neck, p. 196 ff.

26.  William H. Downes, Winslow Homer, p. 240.

27.  Lloyd Goodrich, Winslow Homer, p. 107.

28.  Beam, 1966, p. 246.

29.  Beam, p. 243 ff.

30.  from a letter quoted in Dorothy Weir Young, The Life and Letters of J. Alden Weir, p. 80.

31.  The letter is reproduced in Downes, following p. 224.

32.  William H. Downes, Winslow Homer, p. 1.

33.  Downes, 1911, p. vi.

34.  Hendricks, p. 211. Reproduced from Art in America, April 1936, p. 85. Henricks shows a date of March 17, 1893 for the drawing.

It would be misleading to suggest that the most interesting part of Homer's personal life was what may have been personal about his art, for that is simply not so. His friends of the Tile Club, the Century Club, and Cambridge where he lived as a youth, provided the most interesting part of his life, and one which was very private. Read The Century 1846-1946 for a fascinating perspective. Even with this note however, I still believe that he regarded the personal side of his art as none of the public's business.

35.  Abigail Booth Gerdts letter to Arthur L. Harshman, December 31, 1989. She wrote, "Because of the privileged information supplied to him by owners of the works, and his guarantee of confidentiality to those owners, he did not allow access to the films during his lifetime; I continue to honor his promises, and his policy." The Lloyd Goodrich collection was microfilmed by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. With permission, these materials may be made available for viewing. The Downes' materials may also be in the Goodrich collection, for Goodrich wrote in the foreword to his 1944 book, "...William Howe Downes, Homer's first biographer, who gave me his notes and scrapbooks..." (Goodrich, 1944, p. viii.)

36.  Mayer, "The New Code of Ethics for Art Historians," p. 34.

Some of the materials Beam collected were his own and some belonged to the college. Hendricks regarded the collection as a single entity, whereas what exists as the college collection may only be a part of the larger collection. If there were "private" materials passed along, it is likely that these are being held personally by Beam. The college collection is available on microfilm through the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

37.  Beam, 1966, p. 162.

38.  H. Barbara Weinberg, "John LaFarge: Pioneer of the American Mural Movement" in John LaFarge, p. 165. Note that Trinity Church was 1876-1878.

39.  White entered Richardson's firm (Gambrill & Richardson in 1872), but later became a partner of McKim, Mead, & White, "for many years the most influential architectural firm in New York City." (Britannica Encyclopedia of American Art, p. 367 ff.) It was at Richardson's that White met McKim, who also started as a draftsman, and (at the time of the Trinity Church building) that he first met St. Gaudens. (Royal Cortissoz, American Artists, p. 297.)

40.  Historical Register of Harvard University 1636-1936, p. 289.

41.  Adams et al, p 13.

42.  Maud Howe Elliott, This Was My Newport, p. 120.

43.  Elliott, p. 120.

44.  LaFarge, 1908, p. 70.

45.  LaFarge, 1908, p. 72.

46.  LaFarge, 1908, p. 154. Note that LaFarge talks about "rapid notes" which should not be understood to imply that Millet only painted outside.

Charles Caffin makes this point in his 1907 book, The Story of American Painting, p. 109.

"Until Millet pricked the pretty bubble of misrepresentation, and taught men to study human life as it really is, these fancy idylls of peasant genre, turned out from Düsseldorf or under its influence, flooded our American market. Anyone who is conversant with the operations of the picture salesrooms knows how large a part they have played in the greater number of collections. Their popular appeal may have done much to interest people in pictures, but it certainly postponed for a considerable time a just appreciation of the true nature of pictorial art."

47.  LaFarge, 1908, p. 87 ff.

48.  LaFarge, Higher Life in Art, p. 172.

49.  letter quoted in Dorothy Weir Young, The Life and Letters of J. Alden Weir, p. 80.

50.  Adams, 1985, p. 60.

51.  Henry Adams, "William James, Henry James, John LaFarge, and the Foundations of Radical Empiricism," p. 60.

52.  Hans Lang, Indianer Waren Meine Freunde: Leben und Werk Karl Bodmers, p. 147.

(see also Hunt Karl Bodmer's America and Thomas People of the First Man)

53.  Berkeley arrived in Newport, Rhode Island January of 1729 and remained until September of 1731. He influenced the thinking of the world, but personally left the mark of his thinking on the people of Newport, through his sermons and other interaction in the community of, at that time, about six thousand inhabitants.

54.  Thomas, People of the First Man, p. 79.

55.  William James, The Principles of Psychology, p. 508. (any version, Chapter XIX, "The Perception of Things," section on Illusions)

56.  William James, The Principles of Psychology, p. 480. (any version, Chapter XVIII, "Imagination," first paragraph)

57.  John LaFarge, Considerations on Painting, p. 57.

58.  George Berkeley, "Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision" in Berkeley: Works on Vision, p. 76. (any version, paragraph 117)

59.  Benjamin Rand wrote that although it is not known whether Berkeley founded the Literary and Philosophical Society when it was founded in 1730, he is known to have attended its meetings. Samuel Johnson, who had become a friend of Berkeley was an associate member. Later, William Ellery (grandfather of William Ellery Channing, Richard Henry Dana, Sr. and both Washington Allston's first and second wives) would also be a member of this society. Rand speculates that "Alciphron or the Minute Philosopher, which was wholely composed during Berkeley's residence in Newport, may have been in a measure the outcome of animated discussions at the meetings of this Society." (Rand, p. 30 ff) For those who track who gets credit for what, this may present interesting complications, but the significant point to me is how Berkeley's ideas, at least those reflected in Alciphron cannot be separated from Newport. This would also seem to hold true for Samuel Johnson. I do not believe it a coincidence to find so many relationships between the ideas of Berkeley, Johnson, Hopkins, Dana Sr., Channing, Allston, William James, and LaFarge.

60.  George Berkeley, p. 108 ff. (any version, Fourth Dialogue, line before section 10)

61.  William James, "A World of Pure Experience" in William James Writings 1902-1910, p. 1177. (any version, in Section VI "The Conterminousness of Different Minds)

62.  James, ibid, p. 1160. (any version, "A World of Pure Experience," in section I, Radical Empiricism)

63.  This point is found in (the American) Samuel Johnson's Elementa Philosophica: Noetica (Chapter 2, paragraph 25, on page 42 ff.), published by Benjamin Franklin and D. Hall, Philadelphia, 1752. Johnson was the first president of Columbia University (originally known as Kings College) and had been a friend of Berkeley from the time Berkeley resided in Newport.

64.  Gaustad, p. 206. Gaustad footnotes the quote with this additional information:Quoted in R. H. Popkin, "Berkeley's Influence on American Philosophy," Hermathena 82(1953):136. James also recognized Berkeley as one of his masters who assisted him to find philosophical solutions by pressing hard for the practical consequences, for the "cash value" of an idea; ibid., pp.139-140. For his appreciation of Berkeley, William James owed something to his widely-read, wide-ranging father, Henry James, Senior. The latter complained that few of Berkeley's readers took "pains to understand him."

65.  The reader is referred to Chapter XIX in Principles of Psychology as a supplement to this material.

66.  James, Principles of Psychology, 1952, p. 503. (any version, Chapter XIX, The Perception of "Things," section "Perception and Sensation Compared," third paragraph.)

67.  Gustav Kobbe was another Tile Club member. He too attended the Abbey dinner (Lucas, p. 59.). Kobbe, pianist in the Tile Club, had been the music critic of the Herald (William Shelton, Archives of American Art, roll 800, frame 384). His opera guide is still being updated and published.

68.  New York Herald, December 4, 1910, Magazine Section, p. 11.

69.  Ibid.

70.  Clark, p. 258.

71.  The Century 1847-1946, p. 5.

72.  Sally Mills, "A Chronology of Homer's Early Career, 1859-1866," in Winslow Homer Paintings of the Civil War, p. 22.

73.  Frederic Fairchild Sherman, Early American Portraiture, p. 46 ff.

74.  Hills, 1977, p. 22 ff.

75.  David Tatham wrote that when John Bufford "set about assembling a staff of young men with requisite talents to work in the new style -- Rowse was among the first." (David Tatham, John Henry Bufford, American Lithographer, p. 77 ff)

In 1864, because of his knowledge of Shakespeare, Rowse was chosen to be one of four new members in the Saturday Club (Boston), raising the membership to thirty. Longfellow, Lowell, Emerson, Henry James Sr. (father of William and Henry James, Jr.), Hawthorne, Whittier, Felton (President of Harvard), Agassiz, Benjamin Peirce (father of Charles Sanders Peirce), and Holmes were already members. (Emerson, p. 388 ff) William Morris Hunt became the 33rd member in 1869. (Emerson, p. viii) Rowse eventually settled in New Jersey and remained a close friend of Eastman Johnson. Rowse is one of the two men pictured in Johnson's painting "Two Men," the other being Mrs. Johnson's brother-in-law Robert W. Rutherford. (Walton, p. 274).

Rowse was in New York in 1858 for he became member of the Century Club that year (The Century, p. 401) and also an Honorary Member (professional) of the National Academy of Design (Clark, p. 269). It would appear that he only visited New York however, for the H.M (p) membership status, was reserved for artists living outside New York City (Clark, p. 245). This seems confirmed by the fact that in 1858 and 1859, he did drawings of Longfellow (Sherman, p. 61).

76.  Winslow's brother Charles became a member of The Century Club in 1901, (The Century, p. 384) the year after being awarded a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle Internationale at Paris for his work in the chemistry. (Beam, p. 209) According to Hendricks, "He was obviously a chemist of distinction and is said to have been the originator of Valspar, named after Valentine [his employer]. Valspar is still in demand for surfaces where great durability is required, such as the masts and spars of ships. (Hendricks, p. 122) Winslow was awarded a gold medal for his painting A Summer Night at the same exposition. (Beam, p. 210)

77.  Goodrich, 1944, p. 39.

78.  Downes, p. 59.

79.  Gordon Hendricks, The Life and Works of Winslow Homer, p. 72.

80.  Lloyd Goodrich, Winslow Homer, p. 40.

No truer friends could there be than Damon and Pythias. One sentenced to death, was permitted by the judge to have his friend stand in his place of the other, while he went to take care of his final affairs before being executed. When he returned, the judge was so impressed by the friendship that he let them both go.

81.  Albert W. Kelsey, Autobiographical Notes and Memoranda, p. 5.

82.  Albert W. Kelsey, Autobiographical Notes and Memoranda, p. 26.

83.  Albert Warren Kelsey, Autobiographical Notes and Memoranda 1840-1910, p. 78.

84.  The Nation articles were: "Another view of the condition of the South" 1:425-426, "The temper of the South" 1:523-524, "Our southern brethren" 1:714-715, "Louisiana loyalty" 2:17-18 and "The future relations of North and South" 2: 79-81. I have found another series of 26 letters to the editor appearing in The Index, from 1873 to 1878 (when he departed for Europe for a few years). Beginning in 1877, his name was listed as an "Editorial Contributor." These letters show an amazingly perceptive person. For example, in a series about communism, Kelsey wrote this,

"Meantime, the fact remains that practically this question was long ago decided. No good and sufficient reason can be given why, if communism be the best and most natural condition of humanity, the movement of society should have been steadily in the opposite direction. For it is precisely among the most barbarous and ignorant tribes that we find the nearest approximation to a condition of communism; and it is quite probable the primeval man was a communist. But inasmuch as the movement of civilization tends ever to more and more complex relations between man and man, as the infinite possibilities of the division of labor becomes apparent, that essential equality of occupations contemplated by all communistic organizations is incompatible with modern progress." ("Common Sense vs. Communism," The Index, IX, January 17, 1878.)

An attitude of Social Darwinism may be seen in this, but that could be expected for as already mentioned John Fiske associated with some of Homer's other friends (Martin, Laffan, LaFarge, Hennessy, and Perry).

85.  Kelsey, "The Future Relations of North and South," The Nation, Jan. 18, 1866, p. 79.

86.  Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction at the First Session Thirty-Ninth Congress, 1866, p. 1 ff.

87.  National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol XVIII, p. 46-47.

88.  Albert Warren Kelsey, ibid, p. 124 ff.

89.  Lucretia H. Giese, "Winslow Homer's Civil War Painting The Initials: A Little Known Drawing and Related Works," The American Art Journal, XVIII, 3, 1986, p. 4 ff.

90.  Goodrich, 1944, p. 40. Kelsey died in 1921 and even though Goodrich was born in 1897, it seems unlikely that Goodrich interviewed Kelsey, since his first book on Homer was not published until 1944. His exact source is unknown and Goodrich's papers, as noted previously, are not accessible, even though filmed by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. In the preface to his 1944, Winslow Homer, Goodrich thanks Downes, who died in 1941, for giving him his "notes and scrapbooks." Downes notes, it appears to me, are among the not accessible Goodrich papers. I have not found the Downes papers listed anywhere.

91.  Lloyd Goodrich, Winslow Homer, p. 39.

92.  Gordon Hendricks, The Life and Work of Winslow Homer, p. 72.

93.  National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. XVIII, p. 47.

94.  Albert W. Kelsey, ibid., p. 26.

95.  Helen A. Cooper, Winslow Homer Watercolors, p. 89, note 8.

96.  Albert W. Kelsey, ibid, p. 115.

97.  National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. XVIII, p. 496.

98.  Goodrich speculates that Homer may have returned home in the winter of 1881-1882 (Goodrich, 1944, p. 76), but perhaps he visited with old friends. He may have gone to see Kelsey who wintered on the Riviera during his four year residence in Europe from 1878 to 1882. (Kelsey, 1910, p. 115.) Perhaps he visited his good friend Homer Martin, who was in London (Martin's wife wrote, "He sailed for England the second time in October, 1881, and I joined him in London early in the next July." Elizabeth Gilbert Martin, Homer Martin: A Reminiscence, p. 22.) ...or Abbey or Hennessy.

99.  It is difficult to track Homer's movements, for he enjoyed keeping that from the public also. Consider this by Helen Cooper in Winslow Homer Watercolors. She wrote,

Homer was a reserved man who cherished his privacy -- the Art Interchange of 21 July noted that "The latest bulletin from Winslow Homer [in England] described him as in Parthia," Homer's sly way of telling people back home to leave him alone.

She footnotes her comment with this,

"Studio Notes," Art Interchange 7 (21 July 1881), 19. "Parthia," which was also the name of the ship on which Homer had sailed to England several months earlier, was an ancient kingdom of western Asia, often recalled for its horsemen who baffled the enemy by their rapid maneuvers and discharged their missles backward while in real or pretended flight. By the nineteenth century, a "Parthian shot" had become an elegant last word" and casting back glances of scornful hostility (OED, 1971, 502). (Cooper, note 24, p. 90)

100.                      Albert W. Kelsey, ibid, p. 128 ff.

101.                      Downes, p. 84.

102.                      Downes, p. 56.

103.                      LaFarge, 1895, p. 124.

104.                      LaFarge, 1899. p. 254.

105.                      LaFarge, 1895, p. 152 ff.

106.                      LaFarge, "The Close of the Year in Art." Independent, v 50, Dec. 8, 1898, p 1689.

107.                      Tharp, p. 344.

108.                      LaFarge speech. The American Architect and Building News, Vol LXXXVII, No. 1518, January 28, 1905, page 28.

109.                      The Century, p. 175.

110.                      The Century 1847-1946, p. 168.

111.                      Elihu Vedder, p. 260.

112.                      Along the way there must have been additional incidents like this one report by Beam, 1966, page 97,

"Charles L. Homer told me that sometime before painting The West Wind, Winslow had been dining with John LaFarge in New York; the two were devoted friends but had many conflicting ideas about art, especially in the field of color. LaFarge criticized Winslow for using too much brown and said his paintings were too dull-toned. Unlike Homer, he was an avowed admirer of European techniques, especially the rich color of the Venetians. Winslow wagered him a hundred dollars that he could paint a picture in browns which would be accepted and admired by critics and the public as well. After Reichard, the dealer who exhibited The West Wind, had reported to Homer the obvious popularity of the work, Winslow wrote to LaFarge: "The West Wind" is brown. It's damned good. Send me your check for $100."

(Note that the difference mentioned here is one regarding the scheme of painting.)

113.                      LaFarge, 1895. p 75 ff.

114.                      Ruskin, p. 31.

This quote is from Ruskin's first volume. A. J. Finberg, editor of an edition of Ruskin's Modern Painters published by G. Bell & Sons, London in 1928, wrote this editorial note on page 34,

"We are on more dangerous ground when we come to consider what Ruskin meant by facts. These he regards as the single or particular truths which make up the sum total of truth. Those facts or units of truth which refer only to the material side of nature, he believed, can be discriminated, and they are the same for everybody.

"But can insight into the mysteries and beauty of nature be broken up at any point into a number of discriminated units of knowledge which are the same for every artist? Ruskin's answer to this question, in his second volume, is that they can not, and this answer, I believe, is the correct one. But here, in his first volume, he says that they can."

115.                      LaFarge, "The Field of Art," p. 256.

116.                      LaFarge, 1895, 97 ff.

117.                      LaFarge speech, The American Architect and Building News, ibid, p. 28.

118.                      LaFarge, 1895, p. 99.  Compare the points made here with "The Imagination in Wundt's Treatment of Myth and Religion" by Professor George Herbert Mead.

119.                      William Dean Howells, "Recent Literature," The Atlantic Monthly, XXVII, February 1871, p. 269.

120.                      LaFarge, 1895, p 115.

121.                      Please see the previous discussion in the Abbey section.

122.                      LaFarge, 1895, p. 91.

123.                      LaFarge, 1895, p. 105 ff.

124.                      LaFarge, 1895, p 124.

125.                      George Berkeley and William James also used this analogy.

126.                      LaFarge, 1895, p. 128 ff.

127.                      This is similiar to the point which William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) wrote to John Gourlie (1806?-1891, and a friend of Homer) regarding poetry, "The worst of it is that what is obscure now will become more obscure with time, so as at last to be an inexplicable riddle." (Bryant quoted in Goodwin, p. 366.)

128.                      LaFarge, 1895, p. 129 ff.

129.                      LaFarge, 1895, p. 133 ff.

130.                      LaFarge, 1895, p. 134 ff.

131.                      Once these memories are "placed" they are on the canvas. They, these images now placed in the artwork, look like reachings out.

132.                      LaFarge, 1895, p. 145.

133.                      William James, Principles of Psychology, p. 515. (Any version, Chapter XIX (THE PERCEPTION OF "THINGS"), section titled "Illusions of the Second Type," paragraph 4.)

134.                      Children might be expected therefore to be more likely to see illusions of James' second kind, while adults might be more likely to see illusions of the first kind. It is perhaps significant to note a comment by Beatty about Homer. "...he has another side, and it is that of a child. He seems to be a simple child of nature." (Goodrich, 1944, p. 218.)

135.                      LaFarge, 1895, p. 145 ff.

136.                      "To understand is to forgive." Note that LaFarge's remark is from the artists perspective. If the artist understands the reasons for the lack of perception by the viewer, then the artist can forgive the viewer.

137.                      LaFarge, 1895, p. 147 ff.

138.                      LaFarge, 1895, p. 152 ff.