"The Gulf Stream" was based upon studies made during Homer's two winter trips to the Bahamas in 1884–85 and 1898–99. First exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1900, the picture was subsequently reworked and "improved" by the artist. Early photographs show changes to the sea and to the back of the ship, making the composition more dramatic and vivid. The painting was shown in this state at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh in 1900–01, and then at M. Knoedler and Co. in New York, where the artist placed on the picture the record-asking price of $4,000. There were problems selling the work because of either its high price or its unpleasant subject matter. Homer may have reworked the painting again in the face of this criticism in order to add the rigger on the horizon that signals hope and rescue from the perils of the sea.