Winslow Homer (American, 18361910)
Watercolor on wove paper; 11 1/2 x 9 3/4 in. (29.2 x 24.8 cm)
Gift of Arthur G. Altschul, 1995 (1995.378)
In June 1873, Homer went to Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he painted his first watercolors, depictions of the local children playing in dories, sitting on the wharves, helping with chores, or simply preoccupied by their own youthful concerns. One of the most delightful products of that summer of experimentation is A Basket of Clams. This is the earliest watercolor by him to be acquired by the Museum. The artist sums up the modest responsibilities of childhood in this engaging image of two boys carrying a large basket of clams along a shell-strewn beach. The background buildings and the cropped two-masted sailboat refer to Gloucester's maritime activity. This charming sheet typifies the direct observation, vigorous design, and dazzling light of Homer's first watercolors. Reminders of his experience as an illustrator are evident in his sense of pattern, use of sharp outlines and flat washes, and attention to detail.
Homer shared an interest in children with many American artists of the 1870s. Their paintings responded to the spirit of the postbellum era, when the desire for national healing and the challenges of urban and industrial growth made children symbols of a simpler and more innocent time and of America's hope for the future.