The storm clouds and a veil of rain move off over dark water, taking the violence of the tropical hurricane with them. Left in their wake, a sailor and the pieces of his shattered boat are on the beach. Waves of light blue-water surge up to the coast while just offshore whitecaps break over a bar. “After the Hurricane” is Winslow Homer at his best, telling a story of the sea.
In 1884, Homer, 48 years old and already renowned, traveled south to paint on a commission from Century magazine. He left the gray-green, rockbound coast of Maine for the turquoise waters of the Bahamas and, later, Key West, Florida, and Cuba.
By then, he had already traded his oil paints for watercolors. Inspired by the tropics—the clear blue sea, brilliant skies and white clouds, and the natives who fished from boats there—he created a series of paintings that included “After the Hurricane” and his iconic work “The Gulf Stream.”
Homer painted “After the Hurricane” on his second trip south, in 1899. It shows his fascination with weather—the filtered sunlight and changing sky as a storm drew off, the infinitely varied hues of water set off by the brilliant white of wave crests. He used washes and quick brushstrokes, alternating his colors between the blues of the sea, the browns of the land and the figure of the luckless sailor.
Critics praised the freshness and originality of his watercolors, but at the time his work proved too radical for conservative buyers. Today, this piece is prized as the work of a master.
As the Artists Network put it: “Winslow Homer became one of the masters of the watercolor medium, known for the visceral force of the waves in his oil paintings. His watercolors are an antidote to any visual heaviness and weight. As his early paintings reveal, watercolor is where he ultimately shined as an artist.” —Steve Knauth
This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue.