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Winslow Homer

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

On Guard
1864

Oil on canvas
Image: 12 1/4 x 9 1/4 in. (31.1 x 23.5 cm)
Frame: 22 3/16 x 19 3/16 in. (56.4 x 48.7 cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1994.11
Signed: Lower left: Homer 64
Artist Name: []

Interpretation

In Winslow Homer’s On Guard, a country boy clad in a smock and oversized straw hat gazes across the fields toward distant woods from which several crows rise into the bright but clouded sky. Perched atop a sun-gilded rustic fence of stone and brush, the boy grasps the end of a rude banner, a slender stick with a scrap of red fabric tied to the end. His expression is hidden from view, but his still profile and two fists tight around the stick express tense anticipation. Homer’s title does not specify the nature of the threat against which he stands guard duty. In 1868 the artist redrew the figure in an abbreviated composition published as an illustration for a poem entitled “Watching the Crows.” On Guard, however, was painted during the final, desperate year of the American Civil War, by which time many boys had assumed the tasks of absent or slain fathers. Homer’s contemporaries undoubtedly viewed the young guard as a sentinel on the lookout for the enemy. The tension of the boy’s posture, heightened by the confining vertical format of the composition, suggests an expectation of imminent menace signaled by the airborne crows. A mere annoyance in Homer’s later illustration for Watching the Crows, here the birds testify to the disturbance caused by advancing troops on the ground below.

Homer painted On Guard in his first years as a painter in oils, during which he was preoccupied with the wartime themes that also dominated his work as an artist-reporter for the popular press. Homer generally portrayed the war in terms of the daily life of soldiers; this painting was a rare excursion into the war's effect on civilian life. It was also Homer's first painting of a child, anticipating his intense immersion in the theme of rural youth in the late 1860s and throughout the 1870s. Homer's typical images of boys and girls, such as the Terra Foundation's Three Boys on the Shore (TF 1999.75) and Apple Picking (TF 1992.7), are idylls of rural life that capitalized on the contemporary popularity of childhood as a metaphor for national regeneration in the wake of the war. Nonetheless, Homer's children often evince something of the precocious watchfulness and guarded reserve of the boy in On Guard, who, caught up in war, has forfeited his childish innocence.

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Provenance

The artist
Samuel P. Avery, New York
Somerville Art Galleries, New York, Samuel P. Avery Sale, March 20–21, 1871, no. 76
Allan Campbell Smidt, Greenwich, Connecticut
Estate of Allan Campbell Smidt, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1935–36 (sale)
Kenneth C. Faile, Greenwich, Connecticut
Descended in family
Christie's New York, New York, May 26, 1994, lot 31
Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York, New York (agent), Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1994.

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Exhibition History

Fifth Annual Exhibition, Artist's Fund Society, New York, New York, November–December, 1864, no. 215.

Winslow Homer: Illustrator, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts, February 1951, no. 2.

Exhibition, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, March 1951.

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.

Attitudes Toward Nature, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, September 30, 1995–April 21, 1996.

Collection Cameo, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, January 1996.

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

Collection Cameo companion piece, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, June 1999.

New Faces, New Places: Recent Additions to the Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, October 14–December 31, 2000.

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.]

American Classics: Selections from the Terra Foundation for the Arts, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, January 26–September 1, 2002.

A Place on the Avenue: Terra Museum of American Art Celebrates 15 Years in Chicago, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, November 16, 2002–February 16, 2003.

Deux collections en regard: oeuvres de la Terra Foundation for the Arts et du Detroit Institute of Arts (Side by Side: Works from the Terra Foundation for the Arts and the Detroit Institute of Arts), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, March 2–June 1, 2003. [exh. cat.]

Copley to Cassatt: Masterworks from the Terra Collection, New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, Connecticut, and Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, Connecticut, September 5–December 7, 2003.

A Narrative of American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, February 13–October 31, 2004.

Expanded Galleries of American Art with Loans from the Terra Foundation for American Art Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, April 15, 2005–February 2008.

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.]

Galleries of American Art with Loans from the Terra Foundation for American Art Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, June 2008–September 2013.

Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North, Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois and The Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois (organizers). Venue: The Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois, September 26, 2013–March 24, 2014. [exh. cat.]

Galleries of American Art with Loans from the Terra Foundation for American Art Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, April 2014–present.

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Published References

Goodrich, Lloyd. Winslow Homer. New York: Published for the Whitney Museum of American Art by Macmillan, 1944. Ill. frontispiece.

Goodrich, Lloyd. Winslow Homer. New York: George Braziller, 1959. Ill. no. 3.

Christie's New York, New York (Sale ANNABELLE-7894, May 26, 1994): lot 31. Text p. 44; ill. lot 31, p. 45 (color).

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

On Guard, Winslow Homer. Collection Cameo sheet, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, January 1996. Ill. (black & white).

Regard sur cinq années d'expositions (Five Years of Exhibitions at a Glance). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1997. Text p. 93; ill. p. 88 (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. 88, 198; ill. pp. 9 (color), 89 (color), 198 (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. 88, 198; ill. pp. 9 (color), 89 (color), 198 (black & white).

Side by Side: Works from the Terra Foundation for the Arts and the Detroit Institute of Arts. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2003. Text p. 11; ill. p. 10 (color).

Deux collections en regard: oeuvres de la Terra Foundation for the Arts et du Detroit Institute of Arts. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2003. Text p. 11; ill. p. 10 (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 p. 37; ill. p. 39 fig. 3 (color).

Brownlee, Peter John, Sarah Burns, Diane Dillon, Daniel Greene, and Scott Manning Stevens.Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North with a foreword by Adam Goodheart.(exh. Cat., Terra Foundation for American Art and Newberry Library). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. Text pp. 70, 121, 162 (checklist), 178n31; Fig. 72, p. 120 (color).

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