Exhibition of prints by great illustrator Homer comes to Butler branch

Staff report


A touring exhibition of more than 200 prints by American artist Winslow Homer will open Sunday at the Butler Institute of American Art’s Trumbull branch, 9350 E. Market St., and run through March 12.

Homer (1836-1910) was one of the most popular artists and illustrators of 19th- century America, and one of the most important artists of all time. His painting “Snap the Whip” is the signature piece of the Butler’s collection.

The exhibition, titled “Winslow Homer: From Poetry to Fiction,” includes 230 wood engravings on loan from Contemporary and Modern Print Exhibitions of Laguna Niguel, Calif.

“The opportunity for museums to showcase these works on paper offers enormous storytelling potential that people of all ages can appreciate and enjoy,” said Reilly Rhodes, curator of the exhibit. “Homer is easy to understand and to connect with. The content is straightforward and masterfully expressed. There was never any doubt, even in his youth, that Homer was a highly gifted and talented artist among his peers.”

Rhodes is also the author of an accompanying book titled “Winslow Homer: From Poetry to Fiction – The Engraved Works,” which will be available at the Butler museum store. He will give a gallery talk at the opening reception, which will be Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m.

Homer redefined the rules of art in terms of style, subject matter and message, and the warmth and charm with which he interpreted American experiences has enchanted generations.

Engravings of many of his best-known early paintings and illustrations, including “Snap the Whip,” are part of the exhibition coming to the Trumbull branch.

The exhibition puts on view an extensive collection of engravings produced by Homer between age 19 and 39 – from 1855 to 1875.

Three of his early works include music sheet covers (lithographs) that he produced as an apprentice artist working in Boston. At age 19, he left Boston for New York to work as a freelance artist making wood engravings for the pictorial press, including Harper’s Weekly and Ballou’s Pictorial. Homer also focused attention on book illustrations for poets and writers, an area that is seldom discussed or mentioned in exhibitions of Homer’s art.

The Civil War changed American society, and Homer reflected this in some of his illustrations, which show women and children at work.

Perhaps the most striking feature of this exhibition is Homer’s images of children at play (including “Snap the Whip”), which depicted excitement and hope for the future.

Homer was keenly aware of other art movements of the day, including Impressionism, but was never associated with any art movement. He instead directed his attention and focus on his own ideas.

As popular as Homer has been through the years, it was not until the early 1950s that his work as an illustrator was rediscovered or taken seriously as a collectable art form.

The influential American art historian Lloyd Goodrich wrote extensively about Homer and the importance of his wood engravings as a valued art form that had been overlooked.

Goodrich organized an important exhibition of Homer’s engravings for the Whitney Museum of Art in New York, which prompted several art and history museums to aggressively collect these prints.

Extensive collections of Homer’s engravings are today included in such distinguished museums as The Smithsonian Museum of American Art, National Gallery of Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Butler Trumbull Branch is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.