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Winslow Homer

Born: 1836, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
Died: 1910, Prout's Neck, Maine, United States of America

A Garden in Nassau
1885

Watercolor and selective scraping with touches of gouache, over graphite on textured cream wove watercolor paper
Image: 14 1/2 x 21 in. (36.8 x 53.3 cm)
Frame: 32 1/2 x 39 1/16 in. (82.6 x 99.2 cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1994.10
Signed: Lower right: Winslow Homer '85-; lower left: January 5th 1885.
Artist Name: []

Interpretation

A scene on one of the Caribbean islands comprising the British colony of the Bahamas, Winslow Homer’s Garden in Nassau pictures not the garden but the wall that separates it from the outside, where a small boy stands and gazes at a tall painted wood gate that shuts him out. Above the wall, a palm tree heavily laden with coconuts and dazzling red flowers on tall stalks hint at the lush beauty of the hidden garden, in contrast to the sparse, uncultivated vegetation outside, which is rendered with less detail. By drawing attention to what is not seen, the work’s title reinforces the exclusion of the boy, a descendant of people earlier brought as slaves to the Bahamas. In Homer’s day, a half-century after the end of slavery in British territories, black Bahamians remained impoverished and politically powerless, a condition to which the artist subtly alludes in this image.

Homer painted A Garden in Nassau during two months he spent on the island to make illustrations for an article for The Century Magazine. Homer had largely ceased doing commissioned illustrations almost a decade earlier, but he may have been tempted to return to such work by the opportunity to explore a new setting, one that was attracting increasing numbers of wealthy American tourists and potential clients. Entranced by the tropics, the artist returned in subsequent winters to the Bahamas and also visited Bermuda, Cuba, and southern Florida. In contrast to his usual settings of the New England countryside and the coasts of Maine and northern England, these tropical settings offered a unique brilliance of sunlight, sea, and sky, and strong contrasts of bright color in foliage, flowers, and the skin tones and costumes of the inhabitants. Already a master watercolor painter when he first visited Nassau, Homer broke new ground in the medium as he adapted his techniques to the peculiar flattening effect of dazzling light. Probably working rapidly in a single session, as suggested by the specific date he inscribed on the painting, the artist applied fluid color freely and allowed the pure white of the untouched paper to stand for cottony fair-weather clouds against the strong blue of the sky. The watercolors he painted in the tropics represent a technical high point in his work in the medium.

While Nassau and similar locales offered Homer new conditions of color and light, his emphasis on local life was consistent with his approach to his earlier subjects. By the mid-1870s, his art was preoccupied with a search for authentic experience through the portrayal of ordinary people in their native settings and at work. In the late 1870s, these subjects had included African American sharecroppers eking out an existence in rural Virginia. He returned to the subject of black workers in his later Caribbean images of sponge and coral divers and women fruit-sellers. In A Garden in Nassau, Homer also revived his earlier interest in the subject of children. The small child in A Garden in Nassau recalls the often still, observant or contemplative figures of children and youths in his paintings of the 1870s, notably the waiting boy in On Guard (TF 1994.11) and the watching girls in the watercolors Weary (TF 1992.41) and Apple Picking (TF 1992.7), all in the collection of the Terra Foundation. While such American youth command their settings, however, here the small child is dwarfed by the wall, an impotent figure in a world in which even natural beauty and abundance are exclusive resources for a privileged few.

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Provenance

The artist
F. W. Bayley (Copley Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts)
John S. Ames, Esquire, Boston, Massachusetts, 1926
Copley Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts
Christie's, New York, New York, May 26, 1988, lot 95
Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York, New York, 1988
Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1994

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Exhibition History

Exhibition of Works by Winslow Homer and John La Farge, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, June–August 1936.

Winslow Homer Centenary Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York (organizer). Venue: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York, December 15, 1936–January 15, 1937, no. 59 (as Pickaninny and Palm Tree). [exh. cat.]

Art in New England: Paintings, Drawings and Prints from Private Collections in New England, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, June 9–September 10, 1939, no. 182 (as Pickaninny and Palm Trees). [exh. cat.]

Regard sur Winslow Homer (Winslow Homer at a Glance), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 1–September 24, 1995.

Winslow Homer Retrospective, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (organizer). Venues: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., October 15, 1995–January 28, 1996; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, June 17–September 22, 1996. [exh. cat.]

Domestic Bliss: Family Life in America, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, April 12–June 22, 1997.

Collection Cameo, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, August 1997.

Héroïque et le quotidien: les artistes américains, 1820–1920 (The Extraordinary and the Everyday: American Perspectives, 1820–1920), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 1–November 30, 2001. [exh. cat.]

Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, February 16–May 11, 2008. [exh. cat.]

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Published References

Christie's, New York, New York (Sale BARBRA-6610, May 26, 1988): lot 95. Ill. lot 95, p. 95 (color).

American Paintings V. 1988. New York: Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., 1988. Text p. 74; ill. p. 75 (color).

Cikovsky, Jr., Nicolai and Franklin Kelly. Winslow Homer. (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art). Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1995. Cat. no. 145, p. 239 (color).

Wilson, Claire. "Winslow Homer at Giverny." France Magazine 35 (Summer 1995). Ill. p. 9.

Regard sur cinq années d'expositions (Five years of Exhibitions at a Glance). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1997. Text p. 97; ill. p. 94 (color).

A Garden in Nassau, Winslow Homer. Collection Cameo sheet, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, August 1997. Ill. (black & white).

Cartwright, Derrick R. The Extraordinary and the Everyday: American Perspectives, 1820–1920. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2001. Text pp. 18, 23 (checklist); fig. 5, p. 18 (black & white).

Cartwright, Derrick R. L'Héroïque et le quotidian: les artistes américains, 1820–1920. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2001. Text pp. 18, 23 (checklist); fig. 5, p. 18 (black & white).

Unger, Miles and Arnold Skolnick. The Watercolors of Winslow Homer. Chesterfield, Massachusetts: Chameleon Books, 2001. Text p. 127; ill. pp. 124–25 (color).

Johns, Elizabeth. Winslow Homer: The Nature of Observation. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 2002. Text pp. XI (checklist), 124–25; pl. 24 (color).

Bourguignon, Katherine M. and Elizabeth Kennedy. An American Point of View: The Daniel J. Terra Collection. Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2002. Text pp. 92, 199; ill. pp. 93 (color), 199 (black & white).

Bourguignon, Katherine M. and Elizabeth Kennedy. Un regard transatlantique. La collection d'art américain de Daniel J. Terra. Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2002. Text pp. 92, 199; ill. pp. 93 (color), 199 (black & white).

Novak, Barbara. Voyages of the Self: Pairs, Parallels, and Patterns in American Art and Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Ill. no. 5.9, p. 95 (black and white).

Kane, Kelly. "The Greatest Watercolors of All Time." Watercolor Magic 15:5 (October 2007): 62-68. Text pp. 62-68; ill. p. 65 (color).

Tedeschi, Martha with Kristi Dahm. Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light. (exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois). Chicago, Illinois: The Art Institute of Chicago, 2008. Text pp. 171, 172, 208, 210, 211; ill. p. 172 fig. a (black & white detail), p. 173 fig. b (color), p. 210 fig. 9 (color detail).

Smith, Jeanette M., MD. A Garden in Nassau, Winslow Homer. The Journal of the American Medical Association 310:8 (August 28, 2013): 778-779. Text pp. 778-779; ill. p. 778 (color).

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