“West Point, Prout’s Neck,” 1900 (oil on canvas) by Homer, Winslow (1836-1910); 76.4×122.2 cm; Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA; American. Bridgeman Images

In some respects, it’s astonishing that a museum hasn’t explored the connections and similarities between Winslow Homer and Frederic Remington until now.

Though Homer was older by a generation, he and Remington walked in the same New York circles at the same time and followed similar career paths. They came from established Eastern families of means and were seen as independent artists and men, who portrayed the rugged and remote sides of America. Homer famously painted the Maine coast, while Remington chose the American West as his subject. Both began their careers as illustrators, and both made images for Harper’s Weekly from warfronts – Homer from the Civil War beginning in 1861 and Remington as he accompanied Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Remington died in 1909 at age 48 in Connecticut. Homer died a year later, in 1910, at Prouts Neck, age 74.

They were mythmakers, of men and America.

A new exhibition, “Mythmakers: The Art of Winslow Homer and Frederic Remington,” opens Sept. 25 at the Portland Museum of Art, exploring the correlations between these artists. It will be on view through Nov. 29. This was to have been the museum’s signature exhibition of the year, an old-fashioned blockbuster of superstar artists and their best-known big, dramatic paintings. It is a collaboration among the PMA, Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Denver Art Museum. The same exhibition, with the title “Natural Forces,” opened in Denver in March.

Though it will certainly still be the biggest event of the year at the museum, the pandemic has dulled the expectations. Limits on the number of people who can be in galleries at once is good for viewers who want to see these paintings without people hovering over their shoulder or otherwise nudging them along, but it ensures this exhibition won’t be a blockbuster in attendance. The maximum number of people allowed in the gallery space is 35 at a time, and 100 people in the building at a time.

The museum had anticipated 90,000 people would come to see Homer-Remington show as originally planned, in what the museum hoped would be a record year for attendance overall. Now, if the museum sells every ticket for every time slot during the 46-day run of the exhibition, it will accommodate about 11,000 people into the exhibition.

“Dash for the Timber,” 1889, Frederic Remington (United States, 1861–1909), oil on canvas, 48 1/4 x 84 inches. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection, 1961.381

“Mythmakers” will feature grand paintings, in style and scope, from a perspective that is decidedly outdoors. There are paintings of men casting fishing lines, shooting guns, paddling in canoes and riding horses. There also are expansive, grand landscapes from the Adirondacks to Arizona, seascapes and long-range river views from high atop mountains. Both artists also record truly heroic feats – of dangerous rescues from shipwrecks on stormy Atlantic seas and of cowboys, shaken from their steeds, being scooped up by their comrades before getting stomped.

Both artists were suburbanites and city dwellers. Diana Greenwold, curator of American art at the PMA, said they had lifelong, evolving relationships with the natural world, and the exhibition reflects their efforts to channel its profound power and inspiration. “You’ll be seeing two true masters of drama and action, but I think visitors will also be pleasantly surprised to learn that these artists are also both extremely adept at capturing quietude. The last section, which features a stunning suite of Remington’s nocturnes, in particular, speaks to his ability to conjure silence, composure, and stillness,” she wrote in an email.

Notably, the exhibition also will reward the false promises of American exceptionalism. Remington’s paintings of cowboys on horses, of nighttime stagecoach rides and infantry soldiers standing guard suggest a certain shade of male bravado associated with an Angl0-centric history of the American West. Meanwhile, Homer’s paintings ooze Eastern elitism – leisurely country picnics and comfortable mountain strolls.

Writing for the exhibition catalog, essayist Adam Gopnik suggests that Homer and Remington began their careers telling incomplete and filtered stories from the warfront, devoid of suffering and other cruelties. “In both artists’ cases, the appetite for mythmaking and self-fashioning seems at least as powerful as the urge to bear witness and see truth,” he writes.

Of that, they are guilty of being artists, not reporters. And their mythmaking, he suggests, is part of their uniquely American DNA. “To criticize Americans like Homer and Remington for self-fashioning and mythmaking and blurring the line between reportage and myth, fact and fiction, is to describe them as … Americans,” he writes.

“Mythmakers: The Art of Winslow Homer and Frederic Remington,” Sept. 25 to Nov. 29, Portland Museum of Art.

“Pickerel Fishing,” 1892, Winslow Homer (United States, 1836–1910), water- color on wove paper; 11- 1/4x20in. Portland Museum of Art, Maine: Bequest of Charles Shipman Payson, 1988.55.11. Image courtesy Meyersphoto.com

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