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NONFICTION | IN BRIEF

August 18, 1996|Susan Salter Reynolds

WINSLOW HOMER IN THE ADIRONDACKS by David Tatham (Syracuse University Press: $49.95, 158 pp.). Between the recent New Yorker article on Homer's life and work and the exhibit now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we have a marvelous mid-summer opportunity to rest our eyes on Homer's singularly unaggressive, loyal paintings of Prout's Neck, Me., and now the Adirondacks, as well as a chance to think for a moment on the value of art without verbiage, of paintings that are so little invested with ego and message (Homer's paintings with human figures hardly ever include clearly drawn human faces).

Like Bonnard (whose journals must be terribly frustrating to those who favor artists as explicators, with their unwavering daily entries: "Beau." "Pluie le matin." "Beau temps."), Homer was not a talker. He loved the wilderness and he prized his solitude. Living side by side with his paintings and drawings even only in book form is a reminder of the virtues of wilderness and solitude. Homer's first trip to the Adirondacks was in 1870, when he was 34. He continued to visit the town of Minerva, south of the High Peaks, until his death in 1910, making about a dozen oil paintings, a hundred watercolors, six prints and many drawings.

Tatham also writes that this work has traditionally been dismissed as Homer on vacation, "somehow less serious in ambition or content." In an unobtrusive text, Tatham writes that these visits were in fact critical to Homer's development: "The world in his paintings had ceased to be a background for figures and became instead the primary subject." These are rich, leafy, lush, watery paintings. Passing through them is like taking a walk.

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