Looking at the Eclipse

© Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (photo by Michael Agee)

John Parker Davis, American, 1832–1910
After Winslow Homer, American, 1836–1910
Looking at the Eclipse, 1865
Wood engraving on newsprint
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, 21 Mar. 1942

These elegantly dressed New Yorkers are watching a partial solar eclipse on October 19, 1865, using pieces of smoked glass to protect their eyes. To the right, the steeple of Grace Church can be seen, indicating that they are on a nearby rooftop. The four models were undoubtedly posed on the roof of the artist, Winslow Homer, who rented a tower studio in the middle of Greenwich Village. Homer worked as an artist-reporter, drawing the events of the day for the popular illustrated press. For the previous five years he had been embedded with the Union Army, rapidly sketching scenes of the American Civil War for Harper’s Weekly. But in the fall of ’65, Homer was back home, recording simple moments of everyday life for Harper’s competitor, Frank Leslie. It must have been a relief to have nearly two months to finish the drawing and have it carefully engraved in wood for the story-paper The Chimney Corner. Finally published on December 16, Homer’s account was no longer a news story but a charming picture of New Yorkers enjoying post-war entertainment.

Julie Mellby, Graphic Arts Librarian, Princeton University