Winslow Homer, The Union Prisoners at Richmond, Virginia, 1862, published in Harper's Weekly, January 18, 1862.
Max Ernst, from Une semaine de bonté, ou, Les sept élments cardinaux, 'Tuesday La Cour du Dragon (The Dragon’s Heart) section, 1934.
Winslow Homer, Chestnutting, from Every Saturday: An Illustrated Journal of Choice Reading, October 29, 1870, 1870, 11-7/8 x 8-7/8", Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Ray Austrian Collection, gift of Beatrice L. Austrian, Caryl A. Austrian and James A. Austrian,1996.63.171.
Max Ernst, from Une semaine de bonté, ou, Les sept élments cardinaux, 'Tuesday, La Cour du Dragon (The Dragon’s Heart) section, 1934.
Des Moines Art Center
4700 Grand Avenue
News & Nightmares
and Wood Engraving
January 8-June 13, 2010
News & Nightmares: Homer, Ernst, and Wood Engraving looks at 19th century wood engraved illustrations created for the mass media from the perspective of two radically different artists.
From 1857 through the 1880s, Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910) designed over 200 wood engravings for illustrated periodicals such as Harper’s Weekly. Homer’s drawn-on-the-spot illustrations depicted the public and private life of Americans, including their entertainments, holidays, and sports, as well as portraits of political figures and events, and images of the Civil War.
In 1859, Homer opened a studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City, the artistic and publishing capital of the United States. Until 1863 he attended classes at the National Academy of Design, and studied briefly with Frédéric Rondel, who taught him the basics of painting. In only about a year of self-training, Homer was producing excellent oil work. His mother tried to raise family funds to send him to Europe for further study but instead Harper's sent Homer to the front lines of the American Civil War (1861-1865), where he sketched battle scenes and camp life, the quiet moments as well as the murderous ones. His initial sketches were of the camp, commanders, and army of the famous Union officer, Major General George B. McClellan, at the banks of the Potomac River in October, 1861.
Although the drawings did not get much attention at the time, they mark Homer's expanding skills from illustrator to painter. As with his urban scenes, Homer also illustrated women during wartime, and showed the effects of the war on the home front. The war work was dangerous and exhausting. Back at his studio, however, Homer would regain his strength and re-focus his artistic vision. He set to work on a series of war-related paintings based on his sketches, among them Sharpshooter on Picket Duty (1862), Home, Sweet Home (1863), and Prisoners from the Front (1866).
He exhibited Home, Sweet Home at the National Academy and its remarkable critical reception resulted in its quick sale and in the artist being elected an Associate Academician, then a full Academician in 1865. After the war, Homer turned his attention primarily to scenes of childhood and young women, reflecting his own, and the country’s, nostalgia for simpler times.
At nearly the beginning of his painting career, the 27-year-old Homer demonstrated a maturity of feeling, depth of perception, and mastery of technique which was immediately recognized. His realism was objective, true to nature, and emotionally controlled. One critic wrote, “Winslow Homer is one of those few young artists who make a decided impression of their power with their very first contributions to the Academy … He at this moment wields a better pencil, models better, colors better, than many whom, were it not improper, we could mention as regular contributors to the Academy.” And of •Home, Sweet Home• specifically, “There is no clap-trap about it. The delicacy and strength of emotion which reign throughout this little picture are not surpassed in the whole exhibition.” “It is a work of real feeling, soldiers in camp listening to the evening band, and thinking of the wives and darlings far away. There is no strained effect in it, no sentimentality, but a hearty, homely actuality, broadly, freely, and simply worked out.”
During the 1920s and 1930s, Max Ernst (French, born Germany, 1891-1976) cut up and recombined illustrated melodramatic and romantic 19th century French periodicals to create mysterious, species-bending creatures for his astonishing Surrealist collage novels. The 184 collages of Une semaine de bonté [A Week of Kindness•, 1934, were created during the summer of 1933 while Max Ernst was staying at Vigoleno, in northern Italy. The artist took his inspiration from wood engravings, published in popular illustrated novels, natural science journals or 19th century sales catalogues. With infinite care, he cut out the images that interested him and assembled them with such precision as to bring his collage technique to a level of incomparable perfection. Without seeing the original illustrations, it is difficult to work out where Max Ernst intervened.
In the end, each collage forms a series of interlinked images to produce extraordinary creatures which evolve in fascinating scenarios and create visionary worlds defying comprehension and any sense of reality.
Une Semaine de bonté is the legendary collage masterpiece of, one of the leading figures of the surrealist movement and among the most original artists of the 20th century. From old catalogue and pulp novel illustrations, Ernst produced this series of 182 bizarre and darkly humorous collage scenes of classic dreams and erotic fantasies which seem mysteriously to lure the unconscious into view . . . Stern, proper-looking women sprout giant sets of wings, serpents appear in the drawing-room and bed chamber, a baron has the head of a lion, a parlor floor turns to water on which some people can apparently walk while others drown . . .
Une Semaine de bonté (A Week of Kindness) is divided into seven parts, one for each day of the week, with each section illustrating one of Ernst's "seven deadly elements." "Oedipus," "The Court of the Dragon," and "Three Visible Poems" are among the startling episodes of Ernst's week.
Une Semaine … first appeared in 1934 in a series of five pamphlets of fewer than 1000 copies each.