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Winslow Homer

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

The Nurse
1867

Oil on panel
Overall: 19 x 11in. (48.3 x 27.9cm)
Frame: 25 13/16 × 17 15/16 × 2 5/8in. (65.6 × 45.6 × 6.7cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.74
Signed: Lower left: HOMER/1867
Artist Name: []

Interpretation

Winslow Homer’s The Nurse is a half-length study of a uniformed nursemaid: wearing the ruffled and ribboned cap that was becoming standard attire for female servants, she turns away from the viewer and gazes down with nearly closed eyes at her charge, a bundle of white in her arms that is almost hidden from view. The landscape beyond the figure—shimmering water with woods on the far bank, under a cloud-scudded blue sky—is blocked by a parasol that frames the nurse’s head like a Madonna’s halo as it glows with the transmitted glare of the setting sun it obscures. Despite the painting’s small scale the figure assumes a monumental quality that transcends her menial social position as a hired caretaker of children. The Nurse is among the earliest of the commanding images of women that Homer painted throughout much of his career.

Homer painted The Nurse during a ten-month stay in France between late 1866 and late 1867. This small painting is one of three in the Terra Foundation collection from that visit. Scholars have speculated that the unidentified model for The Nurse, who appears in other works of the period, may have been the object of the artist’s affections. Certainly, her features are conspicuously individualized in a manner characteristic of portraiture, the conventions of which are recalled in the painting’s close-up, half-length format. The nursemaid theme thus may have been a pretext for portraying a woman toward whom Homer bore more than an artist’s regard for a favorite model. Before he went to Paris, however, Homer had already painted an image of a similarly uniformed nursemaid with a child. In 1874 he returned to the theme for a magazine illustration for which he adapted the figure of the nurse from the Terra Foundation’s painting.

Scholars disagree about the impact on Homer’s art of his visit to France, where he encountered the work of progressive painters experimenting with new subjects and technical approaches. The dark, restrained colors of The Nurse indicates little influence from Homer’s French contemporaries who were beginning to paint outdoors using light, bright colors in a movement that would come to be known as impressionism. But Homer’s rather sketchy modeling and conception of the composition in terms of distinct, bounded areas of dense color recall both the work of the progressive French painter Edouard Manet (1832–1883) and the Japanese woodblock prints that were having their initial staggering impact on European artists in the 1860s.

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Provenance

The artist
Mrs. Norman B. Woolworth, 1973
Daniel J. Terra Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1994
Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1999

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Exhibition History

Winslow Homer, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York (organizer). Venues: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York, April 3–June 3, 1973; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, July 3–August 15, 1973; The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, September 8–October 21, 1973. [exh. cat.]

100 Years of American Art, Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, California, January 26–March 4, 1979.

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–October 31, 1995.

Rivières et rivages: les artistes américains, 1850–1900 (Waves and Waterways: American Perspectives, 1850–1900), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venues: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 1–October 31, 2000. [exh. cat.]

D'une colonie à une collection: le Musée d'Art Américain Giverny fête ses dix ans (From a Colony to a Collection: Celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of the Musée d'Art Américain Giverny), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, March 30–June 16, 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.

The People Work: American Perspectives, 1840–1940 (Le Travail à l'oeuvre: les artistes américains 1840–1940), Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venues: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, March 15–May 25, 2003; Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, June 8–August 17, 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). Venues: New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, Connecticut, September 5–December 7, 2003.

Visages de l'Amérique: de George Washington à Marilyn Monroe (Faces of America: From George Washington to Marilyn Monroe), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 1–October 31, 2004. [exh. cat.]

Winslow Homer: Poet of the Sea, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London England, Musée d'Art Américain Givery, Giverny, France and Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizers). Venues: Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, England, February 22–May 21, 2006; Musée d' Art Américain Giverny, Giverny, France, June 18– September 24, 2006. [exh. cat.]

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Published References

Goodrich, Lloyd. Winslow Homer. (exh. cat. Whitney Museum of American Art). New York: Whitney Museum of American Art in association with the New York Graphic Society, Ltd., 1973. Ill. p. 56 (black & white).

Teitelbaum, Gene W. Winslow Homer: An Annual 4 (1989). Text pp. 31, 58 (cat. 12); fig. 6, p. 43 (black & white).

Cikovsky, Jr., Nicolai, ed. Winslow Homer: A Symposium. Hanover and London, England: National Gallery of Art, 1990. Text p. 83.

O'Leary, Elizabeth L. At Beck and Call: The Representations of Domestic Servants in Nineteenth-Century American Painting. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996. Fig. 5–12, p. 198.

Regard sur cinq années d'expositions (Five years of Exhibitions at a Glance). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1997. Text pp. 87–88; ill. p. 86 (color).

Ragan, Richard. "Collectors' Notes." The Magazine Antiques (December 1998): 778–80. Pl. V, p. 779 (color).

Cartwright, Derrick R. Waves and Waterways: American Perspectives, 1850–1900. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2000. Text pp. 11, 27 (checklist); fig. 2, p. 11 (black & white).

Cartwright, Derrick R. Rivières et rivages: les artistes américains, 1850–1900. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2000. Text pp. 11, 27 (checklist); fig. 2, p. 11 (black & white).

Bourguignon, Katherine M. and Elizabeth Kennedy. The People Work: American Perspectives, 1840–1940. (exh. cat., Terra Museum of American Art). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2003. Text p. 28 (checklist); ill. p. 36 (color).

Bourguignon, Katherine M. and Elizabeth Kennedy. Le Travail à l'oeuvre: les artistes américains, 1840–1940. (exh. cat., Terra Museum of American Art). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2003. Text p. 28 (checklist); ill. p. 36 (color).

Kennedy, Elizabeth and Sophie Lévy. Faces of America: Portraits of the Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, 1770–1940. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2004. Text pp. 16, 32 (checklist); ill. p. 44 (color).

Kennedy, Elizabeth and Sophie Lévy. Visages de l'Amérique: le portrait dans la collection de la Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1770–1940. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2004. Text pp. 16, 32 (checklist); ill. p. 44 (color).

Lévy, Sophie, ed. Winslow Homer: Poet of the Sea. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny and the Dulwich Picture Gallery). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2006. Text p. 55, 141 (checklist); ill. across from p. 55 (color detail), p. 59 (color).

Lévy, Sophie, et al. Twarze Ameryki: Portrety z kolekcji Terra Foundation for American Art, 1770–1940/Faces of America: Portraits from the collection of the Terra Foundation for American Art, 1770–1940). (exh. cat. International Cultural Center). Cracow, Poland: International Cultural Center, 2006. Text pp. 20–21; ill. fig. 3, p. 20 (color).

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