Building a Smudge

Winslow Homer, American, 1836 - 1910

Made in United States, North and Central America


Watercolor over graphite, with scraping, on wove paper

Sheet: 13 3/4 × 20 9/16 inches (34.9 × 52.2 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift of Ann R. Stokes, 2002

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adirondack landscape [x]   reflections [x]   river [x]  

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Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Winslow Homer’s group of approximately eighty-five watercolors, created in the Adirondacks between 1889 and 1895, are considered to be his most accomplished. They are the products of an intensively prolific period when the artist seems to have experimented with every aspect of the watercolor medium, from the effects of the Japanese “broken ink” technique to the methods of scraping and blotting often used by British watercolorists.

    Entries in the register of the North Woods Club near Minerva, New York, for 1891, record two visits by Homer, one in June–July and the other in October. Most likely he made this work in June, when black flies congregate in the Adirondacks. Here two guides, seated on a rock at water’s edge, build a smoky fire to ward off the swarming insects that attract the feeding fish. The young guide bends to this task while the older one watches intently, as the flies rise into a patch of bright sky between the trees.

    While at the North Woods Club, Homer boldly began to apply colored washes in broad, liquid strokes that would flow together in puddles on the paper. At the same time he experimented with using pigments of different densities, apparent here in the contrasting fluid green washes and the thicker applications of glossy green pigment in the forest background. For the bright water in the foreground, Homer applied color with a dry brush, then added more liquid strokes for the reflections; in the middle ground he used the point of a knife to scrape out flat white circles meant to indicate the rings left by darting fish. Innis Howe Shoemaker, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 93.