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Image of The West Wind

Winslow Homer , (Feb 24, 1836–Sep 29, 1910)

The West Wind

1891
30 in. x 44 in. (76.2 cm x 111.76 cm)

Medium and Support: Oil on canvas
Credit Line: Gift of anonymous donor
Accession Number: 1928.24
Current Location: On view : 102

Commentary

In 1891, during a period when he was painting the Prout’s Neck coast in Maine with dramatic and powerful results, Homer executed The West Wind, arguably one of his finest marine paintings. The concept of the human figure set off against rocks, wind, sea, and sky is one that Homer explored in a number of paintings in 1890 and 1891. Some of these works caught people engaged in leisurely pastimes, others set one or two figures against rocky cliffsoverlooking breaking waves below.

In The West Wind the relationship of figure and elements is less benign. The figure, small and anonymous, with her back to us, balanced precariously at the edge of the cliff, her feet hidden by the drop in land, her cape whipped by the wind. Energized strokes of color dash across the foreground in a rush of fluid paint to capture the sense of the oncoming gale. The control of both composition and color is sure and the subtlety of tone against tone masterful, as olive sweeps of grass, punctuated by shocks of red twigs, form compelling diagonals rising to the left. The figure at shore’s edge and the low central shrub, given form by mosaic-like dabs of greens and browns, lean right in counterbalance to the direction of the wind. Finally a plume of palest blue sea spray lifts rightward against the sky. In the highly controlled and reduced composition, figure, shrub, and salt spray, set one behind the other, thrust powerfully to the right against the left-rising diagonals of cliff edge and whipping wind. Land, man, water, and wind are held in a timeless balance.

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