WINSLOW HOMER (1836–1910)
Boys on a Hillside, 1879
Watercolor, gouache, and pencil on paper, 8 1/8 x 11 1/2 in.
RECORDED: Lloyd Goodrich and Abigail Booth Gerdts, Record of Works by Winslow Homer, vol. III: 1877 to March 1881 (New York: Spanierman Gallery, 2008), p. 227 no. 800 illus.
EXHIBITED: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, June 25–August 2, 1936, Exhibition of Works by Winslow Homer and John La Farge // Friends of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston, December 1937, Exhibition of Paintings by Winslow Homer (1836–1910) // Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, March 26–May 3, 1959, Winslow Homer: A Retrospective Exhibition, no. 83
EX COLL.: Edward W. Hooper, Boston, until 1901; by bequest, to his daughter, Mary Hooper Warner (Mrs. Roger Sherman Warner), Boston, until 1972; by bequest, to her son, Roger Sherman Warner, Jr., Washington, D.C., until 1976; by bequest to his brother, Sturgis Warner, Washington, D.C., until 1995; private collection until the present
Boys on a Hillside has enough of a documented history of ownership to indicate some of the nature of Homer’s contemporary watercolor patronage. The initial owner, Edward W. Hooper (1839–1901), came from a noted Boston family. Raised in the family home on Beacon Street, his mother, Ellen Sturgis Hooper, was a Transcendentalist poet. His sister, Marian (Clover) Hooper (1843–1885), married Henry Adams. After graduating from Harvard and Harvard Law School, Hooper served with distinction during the Civil War, rising to the rank of Captain. In his later career, he served as a steward of Harvard College and as its Treasurer 1876 to 1898. One of Hooper’s daughters, Ellen, married John Briggs Potter, an artist and after 1902, the first “Keeper of Paintings” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Another, Mabel (1875–1944), was a watercolorist who married John Louis Bancel LaFarge, a son of artist and friend of Homer, John LaFarge. A third daughter, Mary (1879–1972), married Roger Sherman Warner, a lawyer. Hooper owned at least three Homer watercolors that descended to daughters. Ellen Sturgis Hooper Potter inherited Boy with Scythe (Goodrich and Gerdts, vol. III, p. 215 no. 784 illus.) This graphite drawing, signed and dated by the artist, is one of Homer’s farm scenes from the summer of 1879. Mary Hooper Warner inherited Boys on a Hillside and Storm on the English Coast (Goodrich and Gerdts, vol. IV.2, p. 236 no. 1182 illus.), the latter a Cullercoats picture. It was exhibited at Doll and Richards in 1883, from which Hooper likely bought it. One may speculate, then, that Boys on a Hillside was also similarly acquired from Doll and Richards. Boys on a Hillside remained with Hooper descendants for over a hundred years. Among its recent owners, Sturgis Warner, Mary Hooper Warner’s son, moved to Washington, D.C., after graduating from Harvard Law School, and was among the drafters of the 23rd amendment to the United States Constitution giving residents of the District of Columbia the right to vote in presidential elections.
Boy on a Hillside stands as a document of a pivotal point in the career of its maker, Winslow Homer. Two farm boys, positioned at the edge of a field, contemplate the tree stumps that testify to recent clearing. In its technique, this picture heralds what would be Homer’s distinguished career as a watercolorist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In its subject matter, it celebrates a key element of the American national identity, the American farm, the New World Garden of Eden, populated by children who nourished and flourished there.