The Old Print Shop

Winslow Homer


Winslow Homer is known as one of America's most famous painters and watercolorists. He was born in Boston on February 24, 1836, and was apprenticed to the lithographer, J. H. Bufford of Boston, at the age of nineteen. While with Bufford, he produced a group of music sheet covers and in 1862 produced a spectacular lithograph of Union Pond, Williamsburgh, L.I. that was printed by Thomas Eno. Homer started a long career as an illustrator for Harper's Weekly in the late 1850's and produced a large body of work during the Civil War. He ended his relationship with Harper's Weekly in the mid 1870's.

His first etching dates from c.1875; however, most of the memorable etchings were produced after his return from England in 1882. In total he produced only ten etchings with Saved being his final print. It is the opinion of many that Eight Bells and Saved are his finest works in the etching medium. Homer thought highly of his etchings and in a letter to a Chicago dealer in 1902 wrote: "I have many watercolors, 'Two Winters in the West Indies,' and as good work, with the exception of one or two etchings, as I ever did."

Winslow Homer etched all of his plates and A. H. Ritchie printed all of the impressions. Homer's dedication to printmaking in the 1880's and the creative ability that he brought to his images sets him apart from other American artists of the period. This, his most famous of the small group of etchings he produced, is one of the most important nineteenth-century American prints. Five of the copper plates were in A. H. Ritchie's possession at the time of Homer's death in 1910. The five etching plates were The Life Line, Eight Bells, Mending the Tears, Perils of the Sea, and Fly Fishing. A. H. Ritchie sold his business to Charles White who then became the owner of the five plates. He began making restrikes from the plates in 1940. In 1941 he sold the plates to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. William M. Ivins, Curator of Prints at the Metropolitan Museum, asked White to print additional impressions of the plates but to wipe the plates clean to achieve a more linear quality. The impressions printed by White in 1940 more closely resemble this impression with tone to add form that was typical of etchings produced in the late nineteenth century. The prints printed in 1940 and 1941 are often called the "White" impressions and are generally printed on Japan paper.