Crossing the Pasture, 1871–72
Oil on canvas
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas
Winslow Homer initially earned his living as a freelance illustrator, which attuned him to the media demand for pictures and stories of rural childhood in the post–Civil War era. Crossing the Pasture was probably inspired in part by the public's nostalgic desires, but the painting is also a reflection of the artist's own cherished memories of his youth with his brothers. The wholesome country boys are an idealization of brotherhood, the older one standing protectively between the alert bull and his younger sibling. The younger boy's bare feet symbolize his closeness to nature, making him appear more vulnerable and innocent. Standing together against the verdant hills, the boys serve as redemptive symbols of hope for the country's united future after a war that pitted brother against brother.
Boston native Winslow Homer (1836–1910) was always a keen observer of the people around him. He honed his skills as an illustrator and artist-journalist, working first for the Boston lithography shop of John Bufford (1810–1870) and, finally, for the popular Harper's Weekly in New York City. The wood engravings after Homer's drawings from life are unparalleled in the history of American illustration and are distinctive for their unconventional, dynamic compositions; their striking use of black-and-white line; and their dramatic narrative constructs. Although he was largely self-taught, Homer brought his innate flair for pictorial design and subtle storytelling to painting. During the 1870s, the artist produced lively genre subjects reflective of the buoyant spirit of post–Civil War America: enigmatic young women at leisure, factory girls, school boys, and rustic types at play. By the end of the decade, Homer was recognized as a formidable talent whose originality had touched the graphic arts, oil painting, and watercolor.