Take a virtual tour of the Winslow Homer studio at Prouts Neck in Scarborough, which the Portland Museum of Art will open for tours on Sept. 25.

September 16, 2012

What Winslow Homer saw in Maine

The artist's profound impact on American art flourished during his time in Maine. Now, access to his newly restored Prouts Neck studio helps us see why.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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A picture window in the parlor of Winslow Homer’s studio at Prouts Neck in Scarborough offers an impressive view of the ocean, an inspiration for the artist in his day.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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The Winslow Homer Studio at Prouts Neck in Scarborough will open to the public Sept. 25.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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"WEATHERBEATEN: WINSLOW HOMER AND MAINE"

WHEN: Opens Saturday. On view through Dec. 30.

WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with extended hours to 9 p.m. Fridays through Columbus Day. After Columbus Day, the museum is closed Mondays.

HOW MUCH: $12; $10 for seniors and students with ID; $6 for ages 13 to 17; free for ages 12 and younger; free for all after 5 p.m. Friday

INFO: 775-6148; portlandmuseum.org

WINSLOW HOMER: A BRIEF HISTORY

Feb. 24, 1836: Winslow Homer is born in Boston.

1859: Homer opens a studio in New York City.

1861: Harper’s magazine dispatches Homer to sketch scenes from the Civil War.

1863-66: Homer exhibits war-scene paintings at the National Academy of Design.
Post-Civil War: Homer concentrates on his work as a serious, fine-art painter and creates several seminal paintings, including “Snap the Whip” and “Breezing Up (A Fair Wind).”

1881-82: Homer spends two years in England at the coastal village of Cullercoats, developing a fondness for painting working men and women. His paintings take on a new degree of seriousness.

1883: Homer arrives at Prouts Neck in Maine and hires Portland architect John Calvin Stevens to renovate a carriage house as his home and studio.

1890: Homer adds a piazza and painting room to the Prouts Neck cottage.

1893: Homer exhibits his painting “Signal of Distress” at the Portland Society of Art (now known as the Portland Museum of Art).

Sept. 29, 1910: Homer dies in his studio at Prouts Neck. He is interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass.

1966: Prouts Neck studio named a National Historic Landmark.

2006: The Portland Museum of Art purchases the Prouts Neck studio from Homer’s heirs and begins a six-year project to restore it to how it looked during Homer’s time.

Sept. 25, 2012: The Prouts Neck studio is scheduled to open to the public.

– Staff Writer Bob Keyes

We can imagine his life here.

"It's terrific to have the very magical place where we can see today very much the same landscape that he was seeing, and then have a better grasp of the site-specificity of his works. They were not imagined," said Wanda M. Corn, a retired art professor from Stanford University.

Particularly from a second-story piazza that stretches across the seaside face of the green cottage, visitors get a sense of Homer's private world.

It was from this southern balcony that Homer hung his canvases to dry. He walked out onto the lawn, his back to the sea, and gazed up at his dangling paintings to decide if they were finished or in need of more attention.

"I've stood on that piazza probably 100 times in six years," said Thomas Denenberg, former chief curator of the Portland Museum of Art and now the director of the Shelburne Museum in Vermont. "I've certainly come to recognize the waves and the rocks, but what I have really come to understand is the creative genius at work.

"I came into this career skeptical of genius. You leave after a half-dozen years working on Homer convinced that you are in the presence of genius with his paintings. That is an odd thing for me to say. But Homer's paintings provoke awe."

In advance of the studio's opening, the PMA will premiere a new exhibition Saturday in its downtown galleries that puts that genius on display.

"Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine" focuses exclusively on the paintings, watercolors and etchings that Homer made while in residence at the studio. It includes more than three dozen masterworks, including his 1893 oil painting "Fox Hunt," which some art historians consider one of the most important paintings in the United States.

REVISITING THE ARTIST'S TIME

Homer's younger brother, Arthur, first came to Prouts Neck on his honeymoon in 1875. The entire family came along, and spent the summer on the neck.

Homer was already a world-renowned painter when he came to Maine in 1883 at age 47. He came at the suggestion of his older brother, Charles, who was developing the neck as a summer enclave. His aging father also was there.

It was hardly remote, as Homer often portrayed it. The community had several hotels, and Homer had only to raise a flag at his cottage to summon lunch. As Denenberg noted, the artist looked south to the sea for his remote views, because had he turned and looked in the opposite direction, he would have faced the side of a shingled resort hotel.

The Homer family had financial means. His older brother made his money selling a boat varnish known as Valspar. The brand is still around today and is owned by a popular national home-improvement chain. The Prouts Neck development represented a commercial venture for the family, not necessarily a getaway.

But at the time -- a generation before L.L. Bean began his sporting goods store -- Maine was considered a frontier. It had a reputation as a wild place, and Homer accented that image with his work.

His painting studio originally served as the carriage house to a larger family home, situated immediately to the west. Homer engaged Portland architect John Calvin Stevens to move the carriage house to an adjacent lot and redesign it as a studio and summer cottage.

The museum's preservation project involved taking the studio back to Homer's time. Over the years, Homer's family made many changes to the building, adding a kitchen to the west and dividing the open upstairs loft into several smaller rooms, said lead architect Craig Whitaker of Mills Whitaker Architects.

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Additional Photos

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Winslow Homer's "Weatherbeaten," 1894, oil on canvas

Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Bequest of Charles Shipman Payson. Photo by Melville D. McLean.

  


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