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

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"I thoroughly enjoyed Peter Wood's investigation of Winslow Homer's Gulf Stream. With his usual sensitivity and perception, Wood explores the personal and historical contexts of Homer as well as the aesthetics of this image. For this reader, the combination proved wonderfully satisfying."—Nell Irvin Painter, Edwards Professor of History, Princeton University

"Peter H. Wood has done it again; first Strange New Land and now Weathering the Storm. Through one of Homer's best-known paintings, he has shown us what was before our eyes but which we never had really seen or completely understood. Wood's dive into American history sheds light into the darkness that still lurks in race relations. This book needs to be read by all Americans."—Linda Crocker Simmons, Curator Emeritus, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

"[H]ere's an analysis of one of America's greatest art works insightfully related to racial issues of the 19th century. You'll never see this picture the same again."—Roanoke Times

"As Wood returns again and again to the painting, he takes us generations and centuries back in time to slave ships and slavery. Compelling is his attention to detail, and the reader returns to the painting with him to discover what was not seen or even contemplated before. It is a signal event, since it almost never occurs, when a leading American historian turns to art as a means of illuminating the past. In this case, sophisticated art critics as well are likely to learn from Wood's approach to The Gulf Stream, Near Andersonville, and other works considered in this wonderful volume."—Journal of Southern History

"[A] sprightly but close analysis of artistic achievement . . . Wood is sensitive to the perils of overinterpretation, but he insists that Winslow intended more and that The Gulf Stream is, in reality, a complex metaphor of contemporary race issues."—Mobile Register

"An engaging study . . . A fine example of how to conduct historically informed analysis with sensitivity and insightfulness . . . In his able hands, The Gulf Stream is shown to be a powerful collection of images confronting viewers with some of the darkest and most disturbing chapters in American history. With Wood’s hand so firmly on the rudder, Weathering the Storm is well worth the ride.”—Virginia Quarterly Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820326252
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 6/7/2004
  • Series: Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures Series , #46
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet 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.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi
Acknowledgments xiii
Introduction: Diving into the Wreck 1
Chapter 1 The Personal: A Painter and His Picture 5
Chapter 2 The Present: Looking South from Prout's Neck 33
Chapter 3 The Past: Looking Back toward Slavery 61
Notes 93
Index 119
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