The Gulf Stream

The Gulf Stream
Artist Winslow Homer
Year 1899
Medium Oil on canvas
Location Metropolitan Museum of Art
Dimensions 28.1 in x 49.1 in
71.5 cm x 124.8 cm
Famous Paintings by Winslow Homer
Snap the Whip
The Gulf Stream
Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)
Right and Left
The Fox Hunt
Eight Bells
The Life Line
The Herring Net
The Blue Boat
Complete Works

The great American artist Winslow Homer was 63 years old when he painted The Gulf Stream. This painting is one of several works created in the last ten years of the artist’s life. It is an oil-on-canvas painting, but he also made several sketches and two variants of the painting in watercolors. In 1889, when Homer painted this, it is suggested that the painting was an understanding or synopsis of his lifetime of experiences, deepened by adversity, and the recognition of his own mortality, combined with memories and reflections.

Inspiration for Gulf Stream

Homer was a frequent visitor of Nassau and Florida, and in 1898, passing through The Gulf Stream once more, may have inspired him to reflect on previous paintings that he had created. It is also suggested that a Bahamian story, Mc Cabe’s Curse, a tale of a British captain who was robbed by thieves and survived a storm, may have also inspired this painting. Because of his father’s death the previous year, he might have been feeling quite alone, abandoned, vulnerable, and contemplating his own end.

Description

Homer’s The Gulf Stream depicts a well-defined fishing boat, which is small, rudderless, and without a mast or sails, in a very violent seascape and sky. The man is alone on the boat, surrounded by sharks and a waterspout in the right-hand background. Even though the boat is rocking to one side, the man seems relatively calm, looking out to the sea. The gray and blue shades of the tumultuous waves are splashed with red brushstrokes, perhaps as a foreshadowing of what might happen, should the man be washed into the sea. Afar, is a very vague form of a ship is seen, oblivious to the man on the disabled boat, and the scene is bathed in light, using lighter shades of grays and creamy colors.

Possible Symbolism

There is reference to aesthetic realism depicted in the painting, because as Homer separates the good from evil, he also joins them. The helpless man seems to be at peace, with the sharks not disturbing him. This depicts Homer’s hope to somehow make the elements of the world friendly and nothing to fear, as much as elements of the world could be feared as the enemy. Other symbolic elements suggested in the painting refer to a funeral. The ebony cross the viewer sees in the bow of the boat, may symbolize foreshadowing death, and the hatch being open may portray the tomb. The ropes may be to lower the body into the grave, the crippled mast and shredded sail may represent the shroud, and the boat the viewer sees vaguely in the background could represent making peace or redemption.

The Gulf Stream has been analyzed and critiqued in many varying ways, yet Homer did not discuss the various characteristic, and personal underlying meanings of his works. The Gulf Stream had mixed reviews by critics at its exhibition showing, but was purchased by the famous Metropolitan Museum and remains on display.

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