[Homer's] reticence would seem to pose a challenge for the biographer, but in William R. Cross’s new—and certain to be definitive—life of the artist, the gaps in the painter’s private history are filled in by detailed accounts of people he knew and places he visited ... He constructs a reliable narrative of the artist’s movements and residences, of his friendships and financial arrangements and, most important, of his shift from fluent magazine illustrator to painter of enigmatic depictions of nature and everyday life ... Mr. Cross captures much of the artist’s achievement in his fine biography. If Homer’s reserve leads him to speculate on unknowable aspects of the artist’s life—what he might have read, whether the lifelong bachelor fell in love—his interpretation of the artwork is first-rate ... William R. Cross has a special talent for discerning details most of us overlook, and he provides a rich commentary on Homer’s technique, his influences, and even occasional submerged biographical reference, which the painter rarely allowed himself to convey. The biographer’s close attention is worthy of his subject.
Cross’s scrupulous new book is devoted to Homer as both man and artist and is largely a pleasure to read, despite the inevitable difficulties of the subject: call him repressed; call him, as Cross does, 'a misfit by nature' or even a 'human periscope,' who liked to observe others without being seen. Cross tries to circumvent these difficulties by placing the life in a wider context, particularly in Homer’s early years ... How the young man managed such personal and political discord is unknown. Cross, whose scruples sometimes lead to a Homer-like reticence, refuses even to ask questions ... Cross seeks to provide a wider context, and while the material remains thin, one is grateful for every scrap that shows Homer living as a painter among painters ... Cross’s portrayal of Homer, as contemporary as the Met’s, emphasizes his 'empathy with Blacks and Native Americans.' The latter part of the statement is not untrue, although Homer’s contact with Native Americans was limited: a Montaukett chief on Long Island whom he met (and painted) in 1874—Cross relates that Homer’s wealthy uncle swindled the tribe out of land—and Indigenous guides hired to lead a fishing trip he took with his older brother in Quebec, people whose work in making canoes he documented and admired. These paintings have never been well known, and Cross’s contribution here is particularly fresh.
Cross’s book...is a hefty, traditional 'life of.' Not particularly interested in investigating systemic power and privilege, Cross draws out aspects of life that may have figured more consciously in Homer’s own mind, acknowledging without contempt, for instance, Homer’s pragmatic approach to business ... Cross also gives substantial space to religion ... There are still huge holes, including the nature, or even existence, of Homer’s love life ... Cross alerts us to the theories, but warns that there are only 'a few shreds of evidence' of any specific sexual dalliance ... Art-historical queries run into similar dead ends ... The tale chugs along on a track of 'would haves' and 'must haves'.
William R. Cross...demonstrates that Homer emerged as a storyteller of enormous power and subtlety in a period — the 1860s — when America was casting around for the right story to tell about itself ... It is fun to be reminded, in Cross’s biography, of all the criticism that came Homer’s way.
This low-key radical was overdue for a thorough, historically anchored reconsideration, which Cross provides with skill, insight, and precision ... Cross reveals how Homer’s radiant and dramatic paintings are also shaped by profound questions about humankind’s place in the glory of nature. As Cross chronicles Homer’s sojourns in New York, England, the Caribbean, the Adirondacks, and Maine, he provides deep readings of Homer’s ever-evolving, daring works and tracks their often-insensitive reception. With plentiful color reproductions, Cross’s meticulous, vivid, and revelatory biography transforms our appreciation for this quietly steadfast and subtly trailblazing artist.
Vivid storytelling melds with exuberant analysis in this sweeping look at a canonical American artist’s vibrant life ... Cross follows Homer’s artistic quest—from his early commercial pictorial wood print drawings in the mid-1850s to the solemn portraits he published in Harper’s Weekly during the Civil War, to the vivid rendering of natural landscapes that became synonymous with his name. Cross draws insightful connections between Homer’s life events and his works ... No stone in Homer’s life is left unturned nor brushstroke of deliberately placed light left unexplored under Cross’s meticulous eye. While occasionally dense, the rich descriptions and reproductions of Homer’s art will beckon readers along. Art connoisseurs will want to make room on their shelves for this definitive guide to a great American artist.
A rich biography of the towering artist who captured the realities of 19th-century America ... Drawing on abundant scholarship and archival sources, Cross chronicles in vibrant detail the career, travels, friendships, and prolific output of Winslow Homer ... Cross speculates about what the artist 'may have' or 'appears to have' done or felt. But the author is so deeply cognizant of 19th-century art, history, and material culture that his inferences are thoroughly persuasive ... This deeply contextualized portrait features more than 400 images, including maps drawn specifically for this volume. Gracefully written, empathetic, and authoritative.