Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: Summer Squall by Winslow Homer

James W Singer 10 November 2022 min Read

The crashing waves roar with deafening thunder, and the foamy spray flies with a quickening speed. Great gusts of wind blow the waters over the rocks and over the seashore. A storm of monstrous size lands aground and wreaks havoc upon humanity and nature. The drama and realism of this scene are captured in Summer Squall by Winslow Homer. Created in 1904, this blustery image has passed through many owners and now resides in the Clark Art Institute. Summer Squall is a masterpiece of Realism and captures the intensity of nature’s fury.

Winslow Homer, Summer Squall, 1904, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, USA.
Winslow Homer, Summer Squall, 1904, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, USA.

Realism was established in 1855 when Gustave Courbet built his Pavillon du Réalisme in Paris to exhibit his works. Courbet’s paintings focused on contemporary subjects and rejected the historical and fictional subjects commonly painted by other artists. Realist artists, like Courbet and Winslow Homer, believed that paintings should depict contemporary images gained through observation and direct experience. Winslow Homer followed these tenets and painted scenes he personally experienced. Summer Squall is one such example: it depicts Homer’s favorite fishing spot in Prouts Neck, Maine, during an approaching storm.

Winslow Homer, Summer Squall, 1904, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, USA. Enlarged Detail of Rocks.
Winslow Homer, Summer Squall, 1904, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, USA. Detail.

Winslow Homer lived in Boston and was the leading American Realist painter of the 19th and early 20th centuries. His experiences as an artist-reporter for Harper’s Weekly magazine during the American Civil War influenced his painting career. Homer’s paintings often deal with the themes of death, loss, and the instability of nature. Summer Squall explores the transformation of a favorite fishing spot when a great storm approaches. The spot changes from a tranquil place to a stormy scene. The location remains the same but the experience is completely different. One is calm and gentle, while the other is fierce and savage.

Winslow Homer, Summer Squall, 1904, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, USA. Enlarged Detail of Wave.
Winslow Homer, Summer Squall, 1904, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, USA. Detail.

Despite the violent energy of the scene, Summer Squall has a rather limited color scheme. Winslow Homer expresses its violence through the predominant use of only four colors: blue, brown, gray, and white. The gray sky in the background complements the brown rocks in the foreground, while the white foam in the foreground complements the white tips in the midground. A small boat near the horizon adds a pop of brown color in a vacant area of blues and grays. It also adds a sense of scale and drama to the scene as it appears small and helpless in the churning distant waters.

Winslow Homer, Summer Squall, 1904, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, USA. Enlarged Detail of Boat.
Winslow Homer, Summer Squall, 1904, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, USA. Detail.

As the waves toss the boat in the background they also crash against the rocks in the foreground. The repetition of layered waves adds a sense of rhythm and time. The small waves in the rear will soon become large waves in the front. The white tips near the boat will soon add to the blanket of foam near the rocks. Water and wind combine into a scene of turbulence and raw energy.

Winslow Homes effectively captures the drama, intensity, and unpredictability of nature in Summer Squall. It expresses both the human struggle against nature and the human appreciation for nature. Summer Squall is an image of savage beauty. It is a masterpiece of 19th-century American Realism.

Bibliography

1.

Margaret Conrads, “Summer Squall”, Collections, Clark Art Institute, 1990. Accessed 11 Oct 2020.

2.

Helen Gardner, Fred S. Kleiner, and Christin J. Mamiya, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, 12th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005.

Recommended

John Singer Sargent, Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1892, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, UK. Detail. Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: Lady Agnew of Lochnaw by John Singer Sargent

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw is a masterpiece by John Singer Sargent. It portrays a Victorian woman in a bold, modern manner. Sargent combined masterful...

James W Singer 5 December 2022

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647-1652, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Roma, Italia. Masterpiece Stories

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini: Divine Bliss or Pure Erotic Pleasure?

Among the works of the famous sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680), the sculptural group called Ecstasy of Saint Teresa remains...

Montaine Dumont 7 December 2022

William Blake The Ancient of Days, from Europe A Prophecy, 1794, watercolor etching, The British Museum, London, UK. Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: The Ancient of Days by William Blake

The Ancient of Days, designed, printed, and hand colored by William Blake, was the frontispiece of his 1794 poem Europe a Prophecy. An epic...

Catriona Miller 28 November 2022

Sir Edwin Landseer, Monarch of the Glen, ca 1851, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, UK. Detail. Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: Monarch of the Glen by Edwin Landseer

Monarch of the Glen by Edwin Landseer is one of the most famous British paintings of the 19th century. It is a Victorian melodrama at its most...

James W Singer 21 November 2022