Pub. Date:
University of Georgia Press
Weathering the Storm: Inside Winslow Homer's Gulf Stream / Edition 1

Weathering the Storm: Inside Winslow Homer's Gulf Stream / Edition 1

by Peter Wood, Winslow Homer


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Perhaps no other American painting is at once so familiar and so little understood as Winslow Homer’s The Gulf Stream (1899). For more than a century, scholars have praised the artist and yet puzzled over this harrowing scene of a black man adrift in the open sea, in a derelict boat surrounded by sharks. Critical commentary, when it has departed at all from the painting’s composition and coloring, has generally viewed The Gulf Stream as a universal parable on the human condition or as an anecdotal image of a coastal storm.

There is more to this stark masterpiece, says Peter H. Wood, a historian and an authority on images of blacks in Homer’s work. To understand the painting in less noticed but more meaningful ways, says Wood, we must dive more deeply into Homer’s past as an artist and our own past as a nation. Looking at The Gulf Stream and the development of Homer’s social conscience in ways that traditional art history and criticism do not allow, Wood places the picture within the tumultuous legacy of slavery and colonialism at the end of the nineteenth century.

Viewed in light of such events as the Spanish American War, the emergence of Jim Crow practices in the South, and the publication of Rudyard Kipling’s epochal poem “The White Man’s Burden,” The Gulf Stream takes on deeper layers of meaning. The storm on the horizon, the sharks and flying fish in the water, the sugarcane stalks protruding from the boat’s hold—-these are just some of the elements in what Wood reveals to be a richly symbolic tableau of the Black Atlantic world, linking the histories of Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States.

By examining the “present” that shaped The Gulf Stream more than a century ago, and by resurrecting half-forgotten elements of the “past” that sustain the painting’s abiding mystery and power, Wood suggests a promising way to use history to comprehend art and art to fathom history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780820326252
Publisher: University of Georgia Press
Publication date: 06/07/2004
Series: Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures Series , #46
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 144
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.65(d)

About the Author

PETER H. WOOD is a professor of history at Duke University. His books include Winslow Homer's Images of Blacks: The Civil War and Reconstruction Years and Strange New Land: Africans in Colonial America.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsxi
Introduction: Diving into the Wreck1
Chapter 1The Personal: A Painter and His Picture5
Chapter 2The Present: Looking South from Prout's Neck33
Chapter 3The Past: Looking Back toward Slavery61

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