Campfire, Adirondacks

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Winslow Homer
American, 1836-1910

Campfire, Adirondacks, c. 1892

Transparent and opaque watercolor, with blotting and scraping, on thick, moderately-textured, ivory wove paper
384 x 545 mm
Signed recto, lower right corner, in brush and dark brown watercolor: "HOMER/Sketch"
Inscribed verso, upper left, in graphite: "25 815"; center, in graphite: "M.K.W.C. 1026-//The Campfire, Adirondacks"
Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection, 1933.1237

In Campfire, Adirondacks, the guide Rufus Wallace is seated among the sheltering roots of a giant overturned hemlock. The tree’s roots are expressive formal elements in their own right, but these ancient tentacles also seem to protect the resting man. Like many of Homer’s Adirondacks watercolors, Campfire, Adirondacks was conceived on the spot, with washes laid in to suggest areas of light and shadow, but the artist probably finished the work back in his studio in Maine or at the North Woods Club. Conveying a convincing sense of immediacy and spontaneity, Homer’s watercolors were often the result of deliberate planning and several campaigns of painting. Sometimes ephemeral effects were difficult to recapture in the studio, as in the smoke of the campfire where color was applied and blotted repeatedly.

Visual evidence indicates that Homer used resist to define the crooked tree trunks on the lefthand side of the composition. Without this tool, it would have been impossible to achieve the intricate contours of the trunks while simultaneously applying an even wash to the surroundings. Over a preliminary gray wash, Homer, following his graphite underdrawing, would have brushed on the resist in the shape of the tree trunks. Even before it dried, it would form a strong, cohesive film on the paper’s surface without soaking into the fibers; because oil repels water, it would have remained undisturbed while Homer brushed dark-blue wash across it and the neighboring area. Once the wash dried, he would have scrubbed off the resist with a dull scraper or stiff brush and a solvent such as turpentine. Homer’s vigorous cleaning may have broken up the resist, scattering tiny fragments that became lodged in slow-drying, dense, or gum-rich passages of watercolor elsewhere on the sheet. When he was finished, the forms of the trunks were visible against the blue background.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

New York, The Museum of the Brooklyn Institute, "Water Colors by Winslow Homer," October 16–November 7, 1915, p. 10, cat. 49.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Twenty Water Colors by Winslow Homer, Martin Ryerson Collection," January 5–June 16, 1916, no cat.

Pittsburgh, Pa., Carnegie Institute, "Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent: An Exhibition of Water Colors," November 1–27, 1917, cat. 11; also traveled to the Cleveland Museum of Art, November 30–December 31, 1917, the Toledo Museum of Art, January 1918, the Detroit Museum of Art, February 2–28, 1918, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, March 1918, the Milwaukee Art Institute, April 1918, the City Art Museum of St. Louis, May 5–26, 1918, and the Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, New York, June 6–July 7, 1918.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Watercolors by Winslow Homer Lent by Martin A. Ryerson," October 1–26, 1920, no cat.

Muskegon, Mich., "Hackley Art Gallery, Watercolors and Drawings by Winslow Homer, Lent by Martin Ryerson," May 9–June 20, 1921, no cat.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "The Second International Water Color Exhibition," April 15–May 21, 1922, p. 20, cat. 198.

Paris, Hotel de la Chambre Syndicale de la Curiosité et des Beaux Arts, "Exposition d'Art Americain," May 18–June 25, 1923, p. 39, cat. 9.

Omaha Society of Fine Arts, December 26, 1924–February 3, 1925, no cat.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Watercolors by Winslow Homer from the Collection of Martin A. Ryerson," April 1926, no cat.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Watercolors by Winslow Homer from the Collection of Martin A. Ryerson," July–Fall, 1926, no cat.

The Buffalo Fine Art Academy, Albright Art Gallery, "An Important Group of Paintings in Oil and Water Color by Winslow Homer: Loaned by The Art Institute of Chicago," December 15, 1929–January 6, 1930, cat. 13.

Providence, Rhode Island School of Design, "Exhibition of Water Colors by Winslow Homer," February 6–March 1, 1931, no cat.

City Art Museum of St. Louis, "Water Colors by Winslow Homer Lent by the Art Institute of Chicago," December 15, 1932–January 15, 1933, no cat.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "A Century of Progress," June 1–November 1, 1933, p. 92, cat. 893.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "A Century of Progress," June 1–November 1, 1934, p. 68, cat. 471.

New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art, "American Genre: The Social Scene in Paintings and Prints (1800—1935)," March 26–April 29, 1935, cat. 49.

New York, Knoedler and Company, "Winslow Homer: Artist," January 20–February 8, 1936, cat. 9.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Homer Centenary," July 16–August 16, 1936, no cat.

Indianapolis, Ind., John Herron Art Institute, "Watercolors by Winslow Homer Lent by the Art Institute of Chicago," November 1–December 15, 1936, no cat.

Pittsburgh, Pa., Carnegie Institute, "Centenary Exhibition of Works by Winslow Homer," January 28–March 7, 1937, p. 25, cat. 88.

The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, "Winslow Homer to Present Day Chicago," November 29–December 20, 1941, cat. 8.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Twenty-Two Watercolors by Winslow Homer," April 13–May 14, 1944 (Gallery G59), no cat.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Water Colors and Drawings by Winslow Homer," October 14–December 4, 1944 (Gallery 13), no cat.

Brunswick, Maine, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, "Winslow Homer at Prout’s Neck," July 8–September 4, 1966, cat. 24 (ill.).

New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, "Winslow Homer," April l3–June 3, 1973, pp. 103 and 139, cat. 127 (ill.), cat. by Lloyd Goodrich; also traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum, July 3–August 15, 1973; and The Art Institute of Chicago, September 8–October 21, 1973.

New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, "Ten Americans," May 16–July 30, 1974, n.p., cat. 73.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light," February 16-May 11, 2008, pp. 158, 162, 163 (ill.), 165, 212, cat. by Martha Tedeschi and Kristi Dahm.

Publication History

“Knoedler Firm Buys 21 Winslow Homers,” New York Herald (November 19, 1915).

"Notes," Bulletin of The Art Institute of Chicago, 10: 2 (February 1916), p. 143.

The Art Institute of Chicago, A Guide to the Paintings in the Permanent Collection (Chicago, 1925), p. 164, no. 2381.

Philip C. Beam, Winslow Homer at Prout’s Neck (Boston, 1966), pp. 14 and 100, fig. 26.

Gordon Hendricks, The Life and Work of Winslow Homer (New York, 1979), p. 284, fig. CL–96.

Helen A. Cooper, Winslow Homer Watercolors, exh. cat. (Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 1986), pp. 183 and 253, cat. 172 (ill.).

Sue Welsh Reed and Carol Troyen, Awash in Color: Homer, Sargent, and the Great American Watercolor, exh. cat. (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1993), p. 125, fig. 1.

David Tatham, Winslow Homer in the Adirondacks (Syracuse, 2004), p. 123 (ill.).

Ownership History

The artist to his brother, Charles S. Homer, Jr. (1834–1917), New York, by 1910 [according to correspondence from Abigail Booth Gerdts to the Art Institute, February 10, 2007]. Charles W. Gould (1849–1931), New York, by 1915 [Brooklyn exh. cat. 1915]. Sold by Knoedler and Company, New York, to Martin A. Ryerson (1856–1932), Chicago, November 11, 1915 [invoice]; given to the Art Institute, 1933.