Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Fine Arts Friday: Fresh Eggs

This is a painting by the great American painter Winslow Homer (1836-1910). Its title is Fresh Eggs, and it depicts a farm woman going to the barn to gather fresh eggs from the hens in residence. In this painting, as in others, Winslow Homer celebrates the work of women, particularly in an agricultural setting. The painting depicts a simple act: the gathering of fresh eggs from the barn, where the chickens brood. The position of the figure, with her back partially turned to us onlookers, with her head bowed, with her bonnet dropped down her back, speaks of a humility that seems biblical in nature. The one contrasting note is the elegant polka dot dress in which the egg-gatherer is attired, as if to say that this young woman may be found at the moment in the barn but she could just as easily be at a ball. Homer is addressing an era that was on the cusp of overpowering industrialization. The homestead, the family farm, was entering a period that placed it in dire jeopardy, as industrialization and mass consumption gained momentum at an accelerating rate in the 20th century. But it seems to me that in this painting, as in many others of Homer, he is depicting what he believes to be an ideal--the work of women on the farm (also see the The Dinner Horn). Homer was the master of the poetic image (see the Veteran in a New Field). In this painting of the simple act of gathering not only eggs, but fresh eggs at that, he pays homage to the independent homesteader who populated America over the span of the 19th century and to the lady of the homestead who played such a vital role in this great endeavor and the exquisite way in which she did her work.

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