A major turning point in Winslow Homer’s career occurred when he took up the demanding medium of watercolor for the first time during the summer of 1873 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he painted vignettes of young boys and girls at play along the harbor shore. In their relatively tight execution and careful delineation of detail, these works have been called "colored drawings." Executed seven summers later on Ten Point Island, in the middle of Gloucester’s outer harbor, Eastern Point Light belongs to a radically different group of watercolors that shows Homer boldly pushing himself to achieve an unprecedented expressiveness, occasionally verging on abstraction. He began to paint wet on wet, sometimes first soaking his paper in water so that the pigment washes flowed freely, sometimes mixing wet and dry brushwork for certain areas or forms.
The near monochromatic palette of blues and blacks, set off by whites, distinguishes this work from the many incandescent sunset scenes in the series. Here, the full moon and its reflection replace the hot colors of the sunsets; now only the red pinpoint of the lighthouse beacon recalls Homer’s treatment of the earlier evening hours. For the whites, Homer employed a number of techniques, including scraping out the circle of the moon and dragging a relatively dry brush across the sheet to allow its plain surface to show through, with the pigment caught on top of the paper’s rough weave. For the vast night sky, Homer rapidly spread his blue washes across the sheet, slightly changing their opacity to suggest high clouds as well as silvery luminosity. The overall result of these experimental techniques is a magical work of deceptive simplicity and almost contradictory powers, in which we are aware of flat surface and expansive space, enclosing darkness and illuminated heavens, immediate place and universal cosmos. This watercolor suggests, among other sensations, the themes of isolation and aloneness that the artist continued to explore for the rest of his career.
Eastern Point Light belongs to an extraordinary series of bold and experimental watercolors painted by Homer on Ten Pound Island, off Gloucester, Massachusetts, during the summer of 1880. These works show Homer pushing himself to achieve an unprecedented expressiveness, occasionally verging on abstraction. This moonlit seascape stands out from the numerous brilliantly colored sunset scenes in the series with its monochromatic palette of blues and blacks set off by whites. For these, Homer employed various techniques, including dragging a relatively dry brush quickly across the sheet to allow the plain surface to show through. In the area of the water there is evidence that Homer used the end of his brush to gouge out some of the wet pigment to capture the dappled light, while the circle of the full moon appears to have been scraped out. Soon after completing this masterful watercolor, Homer traveled to the northeast coast of England where he spent almost two years depicting the sea, which became the dominant theme of his later work.
Princeton University Art Museum: Handbook of the Collections, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Art Museum, 2013).
Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton University Art Museum: Handbook of the Collection, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007).
Valerie Ann Leeds and Hollis Koons McCullough, By the light of the moon: the paintings of Ray Ellis, (Savannah, Ga.: Compass Publishing, 2007).
John Wilmerding et al., American art in the Princeton University Art Museum: volume 1: drawings and watercolors,(Princeton: Princeton University Art Museum; New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2004).
Charles Colbert, "Winslow Homer: reluctant modern," Winterthur portfolio 38, no. 1 (Spring 2003): p. 37-55.