Though Homer enjoyed early success, several of his most famous works come from his late career, after 1883, when he settled into a relatively solitary life by the sea in Prout’s Neck, Maine, where visitors today can make a pilgrimage to his former home. “Appreciated for their virtuoso brushwork, depth of feeling, and hints of modernist abstraction,” Weinberg wrote, Homer’s seascapes from the Maine coast often pit Man against the powerful forces of Nature, creating opportunities for dynamism and bravura paint-handling absent from much of his earlier work.
New York Times art critic Holland Cotter noted these later works’ difference, however, from the sublime sea- and landscapes of his contemporaries in the Hudson River School, or even those dreamier, poetic versions of his contemporary Ryder. With Homer, Cotter wrote: “Realness held. These paintings carried mysteries, but their mysteries weren’t divine. They could be measured in knots and fathoms and the mark of the artist’s hand.”
Though these qualities link Homer and Ryder somewhat, the latter’s idiosyncratic and often uneven application of paints and varnishes have left many of his works in states of deterioration. Moreover, Ryder is difficult to attribute: He painted fewer than 200 works that—often left undated and unsigned by the artist—have rendered his oeuvre susceptible to misattribution and forgery.
As a 19th-century American painter, the prolific Homer represented characteristics exemplary of his moment. In his art, he expressed his observations of the nation’s social and political changes, and the simple dignity of everyday people—all with an artistic hand that channeled his own independent spirit. If one can safely call Homer the greatest American painter of the 19th century, it may be above all because he largely remained in America, and because in his work he represented a certain individualistic spirit, one that celebrated a noble vision of hard work and self-sufficiency as the nation rebuilt itself.