February 19 2013
Painting the Canvas of the 19th-Century African American
Winslow Homer was considered one of the foremost painters in 19th-century American painting. Exploring Homer’s art gives birth to numerous unique qualities hidden within his work and life. Dressing for the Carnival is a fine example of his career as painter. This work was unique in content regarding to black culture, painting for Homer himself, impressing his personal values to the viewer. He completely avoided the stereotypes to any other African Americans images at the time and simply focused on the subject matter, figures in a background scene or landscape with a closer observation of specific images, narrative, sources, and process. In the 19th-century America, there innumerable images of African Americans had been produced during the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War, but Homer's Dressing for the Carnival is unlike all of them: a deeply nuanced tragic scene of preparation for festivity. Physical elements such as composition, position of figures in space, viewpoint, color and content all contribute to the separation of similar subject matter. The composition of Homer’s Carnival is cropped and less balanced with figures emerging from off the canvas. Less weight is placed on use of foreground, in turn creating less depth. The figures in the painting hold much more motionless energy, their gestures are held firmly without a potential for further movement, like a snapshot. This is easily observed because of the placement of the figures all standing in a line, all the same distance from the viewer. The figure is the focus of the viewer, with the background less important. The figures’ feet almost meet the bottom of the canvas, made a horizontal linear viewpoint overall. This focus creates a flow and path of the viewer’s eye from right to left. Homer’s use of color plays an important role in the overall effect of the painting on the viewer. A...
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