Boston Public Library
Exhibitions

Featured Works

Here are some of the highlights from the exhibition.

A Boston watering-cart

Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing Companion, Volume XIII, 12 September 1857, p. 161.

 

The watering cart was used to control the dusty streets, and in this illustration, it is about to douse the women on their way to the C.F. Hovey and Co. Department Store. Charles Fox Hovey (1807-1859) was a Boston businessman and abolitionist. His department store on Summer Street was absorbed by Jordan Marsh in 1947.

 

 

Boston evening street scene, at corner of Court and Brattle Streets.

Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing – Room Companion, 7 November 1857.

 

The accompanied text reads:

Mr. Homer has here drawn for us a spirited and graphic picture sketched at the corner of Brattle and Court Streets, in the early part of a fine evening. . . . There is Holton’s shoe-store at the corner, and next to it, down Brattle Street, the famous oyster-house, where we have eaten many a supper in days gone by. Across the way, in Tremont Row, we see Cutting & Turner’s great daguerreotype establishment. . . . Here are a brace of omnibuses. . . . On the sidewalk of Brattle Street is one of those pulling machines, which measure a man’s strength to a fraction. A group is collected round one of Alvan Clark’s fine telescopes, in charge of a peripatetic astronomer, gazing at (the) moon. . . . Ladies and gentlemen promenading, newsboys vending their printed wares, complete the busy picture. . . . (T)he streets of Boston furnish a good deal of incident and bustle of an evening, and many an interesting adventure follows the shadows of twilight, to give life and vivacity to nocturnal out-of-door existence.

 

The Boston Common

Harper’s Weekly, Volume II, 22 May 1858, p. 329.

 

Bostonians were justifiably proud of the Common, as indicated by the article this illustration accompanied: “Take the Common as it stands, with the fountain, and the elm, and the historical associations and I defy the world to produce its equal. The Common is a wild expanse of ground—much larger and more airy than any place you have in New York…for children…it is a delightful place. “ As a venue for promenades and recreation for children, the Common was a valuable asset in the competitive battles waged among American cities, enabling Boston to outstrip New York in this category until Central Park was closer to completion.

 

Husking the corn in New England

Harper’s Weekly, Volume II, 13 November 1858, p. 729.

 

This was one of three engravings produced for the article “Corn-Husking in New England.” Drawn little more than a year after Homer started working for Harper’s Weekly, the works reveal that he had not yet come into his own stylistically. The images rely on standard depictions of the subject often found in the art of genre painters of the 1840s and 1850s, and indeed, they echo Homer’s own earlier version of the theme. They are not without charm, however, for they present the stereotyped idyllic vision of hard work and its rewards in rural America.

 

Christmas – Gathering evergreens

The Christmas tree

Harper’s Weekly, Volume II, 25 December 1858, p. 820.

Santa Claus and his presents

Christmas out of doors

Harper’s Weekly, Volume II, 25 December 1858, p. 821.

 

The Harper’s Weekly text accompanying these four illustrations:

In wishing our friends a merry Christmas, we present them with four pictures of the season – gathering evergreens in the forest for the chapel or ballroom; the Christmas-tree with its wonderful foliage and fruit, more popular among children than the ripest peaches or ruddiest apples; the well filled stocking at the foot of the bed; and last of all, the Christmas out of doors, with poor shivering creatures cowering under the storm, many of them, perhaps with “nowhere place to go.” Let all who propose to spend a merry Christmas at home, with a Christmas-tree and sports of all kind, think of the poor people who on that Christmas night have no warm fire to sit by, and no home to call their own.

 

 

Boston street characters.

Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing – Room Companion, 9 July 1859.

 

This slice of downtown Boston street life shows the policeman standing at the ready in the center of the illustration. The surrounding vignettes, some showing bygone trades, depict (clockwise from the bottom): firemen racing to a blaze; a dapper gentleman out for a stroll; the razor-strop man; dock workers smoking cigars; the scissors grinder; a roasted chestnut purveyor with children warming themselves by the brazier; a crippled young pencil seller; the lamp lighter; a teamster; and men wearing advertising placards, one of them advertising for the magazine that published this image.

 

The Grand Review at Camp Massachusetts, near Concord, September 9, 1859

Harper’s Weekly, Volume III, 24 September 1859, pp. 616-617.

 

The general muster of the Massachusetts militia took place near Concord September 7-9, 1859. The group of horsemen in the foreground are Major General Sutton and the staff, who are followed by a brass band and the Boston Fusileers. Governor Banks is mounted on his Morgan horse in the backgound near the flagstaff. On his right is General Wood, around him are the Senate and other public bodies. The troops were 6000 in number and more than 60,000 spectators came to view the event.

 

Fall games – The apple-bee

Harper’s Weekly, Volume III, 26 November 1859, p. 761.

 

At apple bees, females would try to peel an apple without tearing the peel. The single peel would then be tossed over the shoulder. When it dropped to the floor, it was said to form the first letter of the name of the man she would marry.

 
 
 
 
 

The war – Making havelocks for the volunteers

Harper’s Weekly, Volume V, 29 June 1861, p. 401.

 

Winslow Homer spent the summer following the outbreak of the Civil War in Belmont, Massachusetts, not far from Watertown, which was the site of a major arsenal from the early nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Eight hundred people were working there, making supplies for the new war effort. The men put powder into the cartridges, while the women assembled the bullets. The accompanying an article noted, “It is evident that, in the course of a few weeks, there will be no lack of this material of war, at all events.”

 

A bivouac fire on the Potomac

Harper’s Weekly, Volume V, 21 December 1861, pp. 808-809.

 

At night, after the day’s drills were completed, the men would gather around a campfire. Soldiers played cards, smoked and rested, and in this scene, enjoyed the dancer and music from the fiddler.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Christmas boxes in camp – Christmas, 1861

Harper’s Weekly, Volume VI, 4 January 1862, p. 1.

 

Homer depicts the soldier’s joy upon receiving packages from home containing warm socks and mittens, as well as home baked goods. With the arrival of these packages, there was no need to visit the sutler’s tent and pay his exorbitant prices.

 
 
 
 
 

Rebels outside their works at Yorktown reconnoitring with dark lanterns

Harper’s Weekly, Volume VI, 17 May 1862, p. 305.

 

In the spring of 1862, General McClellan, commander of the Union forces, surrounded Yorktown, where he believed he could defeat the rebel forces. A standoff occurred, and with little battle activity to report, some of the journals, including Harper’s Weekly, illustrated the Union encampments; however, the War Department confiscated these issues because it did not want details of the Union sites published. Instead, the weeklies depicted more generalized images of the Confederates at the front, such as this one of rebels observing, or reconnoitering, in the night.

 

The war for the union, 1862 – A cavalry charge

Harper’s Weekly, Volume VI, 5 July 1862, pp. 424-425.

The war for the union, 1862 – A bayonet charge

Harper’s Weekly, Volume VI, 12 July 1862, pp. 440-441.

 

Winslow Homer experienced firsthand the tragedy, angst and occasional pride of a nation at war with itself. In 1861 as special war correspondent for Harper’s Weekly, Homer joined the Union soldiers at camp in Virginia, while they regrouped after their loss at the first Battle of Bull Run. Here Winslow honed his artistic mastery in expressing the pathos and glory of the soldiers at war, in repose and in celebration through his use of strict linear and tonal drawings which were eventually engraved in boxwood by a skilled wood engraver.

Some believe that The war for the union, 1862 – A cavalry charge is idealized because the cavalry consisted largely of farmers and city dwellers who had little experience riding fast horses. One Union soldier wrote in October 1863, “We have considerable cavalry with us but they are the laughing stock of the army and the boys poke all kinds of fun at them. I really have as yet to see or hear of their doing anything of much credit.” The editorial in Harper’s Weekly that accompanied this image proclaimed, “The army is in such splendid condition . . . [and] it is so thoroughly impressed with belief in its own success, that officers, men, and newspaper writers all predict a triumph.”

 

The surgeon at work at the rear during an engagement

Harper’s Weekly, Volume VI, 12 July 1862, p. 436.

 

Most doctors had only a rudimentary education; one did not need a college degree to be admitted to medical school. Many surgeons were recruited from among butchers and barbers and were looked down on by other practicing doctors who would not bother themselves with the mechanical tasks of sawing and sewing.

 
 
 
 

Our women and the war

Harper’s Weekly, Volume VI, 6 September 1862, pp. 568-569.

 

Homer portrays what women could do to relieve the sorrow and pains of soldiers. A nun comforts a wounded soldier while a nurse writes, at the dictation of a bedridden soldier. Above, a group of young women are at work, sewing clothes for the troops, and another woman is laundering a soldier’s clothes. The moral of the illustration: every woman, in some way, can do something to help the army.

 
 
 
 

The great Russian Ball at the Academy of Music, November 5, 1863

Harper’s Weekly, Volume VII, 21 November 1863, pp. 744-745.

 

One of the greatest spectacles of the 1863 New York social season was the Russian Ball held in honor of the officers of the Russian fleet. So detailed were the newspaper reports (which included descriptions of the dresses, the decorations, the full menu, and the amounts of food and drink consumed) that it is possible that Homer based his drawing on written accounts. Nevertheless, this engraving conveys the excitement and dizzying effects of the evening for the thousands who participated in the glittering event.

 

The Army of the Potomac — A sharp-shooter on picket duty

Harper’s Weekly, Volume VI, 15 November 1862, p. 724.

 
Homer camped with the army in order to gain insight and material for his illustrations. Sharpshooters used several types of rifles during the war. The weapon shown here is believed to be a Morgan James with a telescope running the entire length of the barrel. The devastating effect of sharpshooters owed more to the feeling of vulnerability they created in the enemy front lines than to the magnitude of casualties they actually inflicted.

 

Thanksgiving in Camp

Harper’s Weekly, Volume VI, 29 November 1862, p. 764.

 
In November 1862, when this image was published, Homer was in New York. This illustration of Thanksgiving in camp was imaginery as he spent the holiday with his family in 1862. It appears the soldiers’ Thanksgiving dinner consisted of the cider, pies and herring offered by the sutler.

 

 

Winter-quarters in camp — The inside of a hut

Harper’s Weekly, Volume VII, 24 January 1863, p. 52.

 
This engraving was published in January, after Homer spent two months the previous spring at the front. This is an imaginary image of winter life in camp, described in the accompanying text:

Mr. Homer shows us the interior of a hut, in which a glowing fire is blazing, shedding light and warmth around. Stretched on the floor, bunks, and seats, are soldiers in every imaginable position—smoking, chatting, reading, card-playing, and sleeping. Almost in every company there is one sharp-witted fellow who can tell a good story.

 

Pay-day in the Army of the Potomac

Harper’s Weekly, Volume VII, 28 February 1863, pp. 136-137.

 
The appearance of the paymaster was erratic. When he did come, the men were mustered and paid off by companies. Some men sent money home to their families while others flocked to the sutler, a merchant who followed the army and sold provisions to the soldiers.

 
 
 

“Any thing for me, if you please?” — Post-office of the Brooklyn Fair in aid of the Sanitary Commission

Harper’s Weekly, Volume VIII, 5 March 1864, p. 156.

 
The United States Sanitary Commission was created during the Civil War to aid the wounded and their families. In 1864 the Brooklyn Sanitary Fair on Montague Street raised over $400,000 for the benefit of the commission. Here Homer depicts one of its fund-raising attractions, a “Post Office” where people could pay to send messages to others at the fair.

 

Our watering-places — The empty sleeve at Newport

Harper’s Weekly, Volume IX, 26 August 1865, p. 532.

 
This illustration accompanied a story in Harper’s Weekly, “The Empty Sleeve at Newport; or, Why Edna Ackland Learned to Drive.” Having lost an arm, Captain Harry Ash returns from the war seeking his love, Edna Ackland, who learned to drive a horse and buggy in his absence. The returning soldiers came home to women who had adjusted to changed circumstances and often took a stronger role in the relationship.

 

Our watering-places — Horse-racing at Saratoga

Harper’s Weekly, Volume IX, 26 August 1865, p. 533.

 
The term “watering place” was coined in the mid-eighteenth century to describe a resort visited by the wealthy either for sea bathing, or for drinking or bathing in the waters of a mineral spring. Saratoga Springs, New York, was considered the premier summer resort for the social elite from the mid- 1860s until the end of the nineteenth century. Then, as now, the town’s tourist season reached its peak during August, when the historic track opened for racing.

 

Thanksgiving Day — Hanging up the musket

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Volume XXI, December 23, 1865, p. 217.

 
With the long Civil War finally over, veterans could hang up their guns as trophies of battle. Following some controversy, President Johnson signed a bill in spring 1865 allowing soldiers to retain their firearms, recognizing that ownership of these guns was a source of pride. In this engraving, the grandfather’s broken gun of 1776, symbolizing the shattered promises of the Revolutionary War, hangs above the new firearm of the most recent war. The image accompanied an article that declared, “Now we have peace smiling over all the land, and its promise for many years to come.”

 

New England factory life – “Bell time”

Harper’s Weekly, Volume XII, 25 July 1868, p. 472.

 

Major changes were happening in the lives of women as a result of the Civil War. Prior to 1860, American women’s lives centered around the home – either maintenance of the family or piecework conducted on the domestic front and sold on the regional market.

The war spurred industrialization, bringing changes in the shape of the workforce, new leisure activities, and new markets for mass-produced goods.

Homer portrayed these changes by depicting in illustrations the hardworking farm girl; the city woman with her highly regulated social life; the factory worker; the schoolmistress and others of the emerging class of women who aspired to professions once dominated by males.
 
 

Christmas belles

Harper’s Weekly, Volume XIII, 2 January 1869, p. 8.

 

This image was not specifically related to a text except for a passing mention in the New Year’s editorial expressing the hope that “Jack Frost” would “return by Twelfth Night, and the ‘Christmas Belles’ shall yet skim the moonlit snow to the dance and the yellow glass of mulled wine.” Here a friendly race seems to take place. Speed is implied by the way that Homer has excluded the horse except for a telltale hoof and the tip of the tail, suggesting that the sleigh will soon disappear from sight as well. The two women seated in the back of the sleigh hold their scarves on high in a gesture of triumph as they gain ground against their competitors.

 

The New Year – 1869

Harper’s Weekly, Volume XIII, 9 January 1869, p. 20.

 
The bell tolls, and the clock strikes midnight, as the new year rushes in on his velocipede and Father Time makes his exit.

 

 

 

 

 

1860 — 1870

Harper’s Weekly, January 8, 1870

 
Homer depicts several crucial events that took place during the decade between 1860 and 1870: President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation; the U.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia signaled an end to the age of wood and sail and opened up an age of iron and steam; the armies laid down their weapons and the men went back to productive work; all children, black and white, went to school and learned together.

 

The noon recess

Harper’s Weekly, Volume XVII, 28 June 1873, p. 549.

 
Homer investigated the subject of the American country school in a series of paintings and engravings beginning in the 1870s. His focus on the theme occurred at a crucial time of reform in American education, when teaching duties were taken over largely by women who were professionally trained, disciplinary tactics were modified, and new teaching methods reflected the belief in children’s ability to learn in a sympathetic environment. The illustration appeared opposite a poem of the same title which examined the emotional states of the two figures:

Yes, hide your little tearstained face
Behind that well-thumbed book, my boy;
Your troubled thoughts are all intent
Upon the game your mates enjoy,
While you this recess hour must spend
On study bench without a friend. . . .

 

“Snap-the-whip”

Harper’s Weekly, Volume XVII, 20 September 1873, pp. 824-825.

 
At this time there was nostalgia for the disappearing “little red schoolhouses” contrasted with significant reforms taking place in American education, the new role of the teacher, and changes in the curriculum emerging in the decades after the Civil War.