Winslow Homer, the quintessential American artist

He would chronicle it all the Civil War, the schoolyard games, the raging coast of Maine yet the man remained a mystery to the end

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By the time he was in his mid-40s, a decade after the end of the Civil War, Winslow Homer was already successful as a painter. His reputation had been firmly established with masterpieces such as Prisoners from the Front (1866), hailed by the New York Evening Post as "a complete summation of the most vital facts of the Civil War," and The Carnival (1877), one of a series in which he documented the lives of the newly freed blacks in Petersburg, Virginia.

Yet, from the late 1870s on, Winslow Homer seemed to change in a fundamental way. Some scholars speculate that there was a failed romance that caused his withdrawal from society. In any case, this great painter of the American scene did not lose the edge when it came to the probity and drama of his art. Eventually moving to the coast of Maine, he limited his socializing to occasional trips to town to pick up his mail. In works such as Fox Hunt (1893) and Right and Left (1909), Homer dealt with profound issues of existence, while in his paintings of the pounding surf of the Maine coast he brought nature to center stage.

Now, these works and other masterpieces by Winslow Homer are included in a major retrospective that opens at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., on October 15, where it will continue until January 28, 1996. It will then travel to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (February 21 to May 26, 1996), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (June 20 to September 22, 1996).

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