About this artwork
For to Be a Farmer’s Boy was painted at Prout’s Neck, Maine, and is one of several watercolors in which Homer returned to his earlier theme of rural American childhood. Although the sky has faded and appears empty, X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and FTIR analyses have yielded evidence that the artist originally painted the sky with dilute washes of chrome yellow and pink madder (both fugitive pigments), with a minute amount of vermilion, to create a glowing orange sunset. Thus, the watercolor originally showed a young boy pausing in his work of harvesting pumpkins to gaze off toward the setting sun, recalling the work of French Barbizon School artists, who influenced Homer in his early career. Their pictures of peasants pausing for a moment of contemplation at the end of their workday resonated with Homer, who showed a lifelong preference for depicting workers.
Homer derived the title from an anonymous Old English song: “Though little, I’ll work as hard as a Turk, / If you’ll give me employ /To plow and sow, and reap and mow, / And be a farmer’s boy.” Interestingly, a longer version of the song includes the line “The sun went down behind yon hills,” thereby supporting findings that the watercolor originally depicted an orange sunset.
Currently Off View
- Prints and Drawings
- Winslow Homer
- For to Be a Farmer's Boy
- United States
- Transparent and opaque watercolor, with rewetting, blotting, and scraping, heightened with gum glaze, over graphite, on thick, rough-textured ivory wove paper (lower edge trimmed)
- Signed recto, lower right, in black watercolor: "Winslow Homer/1887" [over old signature, blotted out: "Winslow Homer/1887"]
- 355 × 509 mm
- Gift of Mrs. George T. Langhorne in memory of Edward Carson Waller