The artist had done this painting during the last 10 years of his life, when he was 63 years old. The painting of ‘The Gulf Stream’ was created in 1899 and it was a sort of synopsis of the artist’s own lifetime experiences which were steeped in adversity and combined with the memories and reflections of his life. This was not the only painting of ‘The Gulf Stream’ but he had created two other variants of the same with watercolors. In addition to this he also made a few sketches on the same subject. The artist drew inspiration for this painting from different sources. Since he frequently visited Nassau and Florida, his journey took him through the Gulf Stream and this could have been a source of inspiration to him. Studies show that the painting was based on the two winter trips made by the artist to the Bahamas3 in 1884 – 85 and 1898 – 99. Another source of the artist’s inspiration is believed to have come from ‘Mc Cabe’s Curse’4 which is a Bahamian story that tells of how a British Captain had been robbed and had to survive a terrible storm. Homer also drew inspiration from his father’s death as he was left lonely and abandoned. Painting Description 4 The painting of ‘The Gulf Stream’ was an oil on canvas painting whose dimensions are 28.1 inches by 49.1 inches (71.5 cm x 124.8 cm) Presently, this painting is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.5 The background of the painting shows a rough and violent seascape and a partially lit sky. The center of the painting shows a small rudderless boat, devoid of mast and sails, bobbing up and down on its dark waters. The solitary figure of a man, battling the waves, with huge hungry sharks all around him stands out against the dark background of water. On the right of the boat in the distance a water spout can be seen rising up into the clouded sky. The actual painting of the rough sea is done with brush strokes of blue and gray that occurs alternating with scant brush strokes of reddish brown. The entire scene is bathed in a creamy white light depicting either dawn or dusk. In the far away distance is the ghostly outline of a ship, very vague in its form and shape, but unfortunately the ship is not noticed by the man in the boat. There is a sort of aesthetic realism6 that is portrayed in this composition. In as much as the author consciously separates the good and evil elements he portrays them together, showing that both good and evil exists in our midst. The helpless man symbolizes vulnerability and abandonment on one hand, but on the other hand he is shown to be calm and at ease among the sharks in the water. Homer’s 5 underlying meaning could have been one of hope with nothing much to fear and suggests strength of character. There is another area of possible symbolism and that is the ebony cross located on the bow of the boat suggesting impending death and a funeral to follow. The open hatch also could suggest a sort of tomb or a grave. The ethereal ship shown in the distance could symbolize redemption by making peace with ones self. The artist’s use of line and color is so mature showing his experience on oil and canvas. The lines are smooth and the colors such as the shades of grey, blues and creams blend well against each other giving the whole scene an ominous appearance. The color and contours of the figures gives it a dark mood filled with impending danger. From the exquisiteness of the painting it is clearly understood that Winslow Homer was a highly skilled artist of his time. I really liked the painting for its
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