Overview: Homer's The Water Fan
An overview of Homer's artistic work in the Bahamas and his ability to capture, with watercolors, the brilliant reflection of the tropical sun on the warm waters of the Caribbean.

Book: Impressionism and Post-Impressionism
Art Institute of Chicago. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in The Art Institute of Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, p. 97.

In The Water Fan, Winslow Homer captured the brilliant reflection of the tropical sun on the warm waters of the Caribbean. He achieved this effect with an economy of means—a simple composition and a limited palette—but his expert handling of watercolor gives the image subtlety and strength. To convey the glassy depths of the water, Homer exploited the natural translucence of his medium, layering thin washes of blue. He added tints of gray, highlights of white, and saturated strokes of pure, bright pigment over the delicate wash. He used the same range of hues in the sky, incorporating the off-white of the bare paper into his color scheme. The dazzling white of the fisherman’s shirt provides a stunning contrast to the rest of the composition’s tranquil blue tonality, while a more subtle note is struck by the pale piece of coral in the prow of the boat, the "water fan" that gives the image its name.

Homer first visited the Bahamas in the winter of 1884–85, stopping in Nassau and Cuba, where the luminous skies and turquoise seas added a new dimension to his work in watercolor. He returned to Nassau in December 1898 and, during a two-month sojourn, painted many of the subjects that immediately intrigued him: lush vegetation, seaside vistas, and fishermen working along the shore. In terms of color and light, Homer’s later Bahamian watercolors suggest a sensuous departure from the hard realism of the marine scenes he produced at home in Prout’s Neck, Maine. But the monumentality of the figure in The Water Fan—strong, solid, and purposeful—reveals that Homer discerned the same epic sensibility in Caribbean fishermen that he respected in the men who fished the North Atlantic.