Homer began the canvas in New York in 1873, after he had visited Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he first worked in watercolor. He used the sketches made there, of which the most closely related is Sailing the Catboat (1873), for the oil painting, which he worked on over three years. Infrared reflectography has revealed the many changes he made to the composition during this time, including the removal of a fourth boy near the mast and a second schooner in the distance. At one point the adult held both the sheet and the tiller, a position initially adapted from an oil study of 1874 titled The Flirt. The painting's message is positive; despite the choppy waves, the boaters look relaxed. The anchor that replaced the boy in the bow was understood to symbolize hope. The boy holding the tiller looks forward to the horizon, a statement of optimism about his future and that of the young United States.
The finished work indicates that the significant influence of Japanese art on Western painters in the 19th century also touched Homer, particularly in the compositional balance between the left (active) and right (sparse) halves. Homer had visited France in 1866 and 1867, and the influence of marine scenes by the French painters Gustave Courbet and Claude Monet is apparent as well. Not all of Homer's sea pictures are so benevolent as Breezing Up: he portrayed waves crashing ashore as did Courbet (see for example The Wave, c. 1869). Monet's relatively early paintings Seascape: Storm (1867) and The Green Wave (1866) show boats on somewhat turbulent seas.
Completed in the centennial year 1876, the painting was first exhibited at the National Academy of Design that year, then at the Centennial Exposition in... [continues]
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