The Brush Harrow
© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

In The Brush Harrow, one of Homer’s most sensitive and poignant post–Civil War paintings, two boys prepare a field for spring planting. Unlike other nineteenth-century genre scenes, which celebrate the whimsical spirit of childhood, this work has a tragic cast. The boys do the work of men in the absence of men. Indirectly acknowledging the carnage of the war, Homer implies that the older farmhands — the boys’ fathers, uncles, and older brothers — have not returned from the battlefield.

At the end of the Civil War, Americans mourned the dead and at the same time looked forward to the nation’s economic, political, and spiritual rebirth. Invoking agrarian cycles and the promise of a new generation even as it acknowledges loss, The Brush Harrow perfectly captures the mixture of hope and sadness that defined the national psyche.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
1939.229
People
Winslow Homer, American (Boston, MA 1836 - 1910 Prouts Neck, ME)
Title
The Brush Harrow
Other Titles
Former Title: Harrowing, Spring Time
Classification
Paintings
Work Type
painting
Date
1865
Places
Creation Place: North America, United States
Culture
American
Location
Level 2, Room 2100, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, Painting and Photography in an Era of Social Change
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Physical Descriptions
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
61 x 96 cm (24 x 37 13/16 in.)
frame: 88.9 x 124.4 x 8.9 cm (35 x 49 x 3 1/2 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: l.l.: HOMER--NY 65
Provenance
[Henry H. Leeds and Miner, New York, 1866]. A. M. Cozzens, New York, probably 1866. [Levitt, Strebeigh and Co., 1868]. Judge William W. Goodrich, Brooklyn, NY, 1868, by descent; to his son Henry W. Goodrich, Nutley, NJ. [M. Knoedler and Co., New York, 1921], sold; to Horace D. Chapin, Boston, MA, 1921; to his sister, Mrs. Robert B. Osgood, Boston, c. 1936. Private Collector, Boston, MA, gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1939.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Anonymous Gift
Accession Year
1939
Object Number
1939.229
Division
European and American Art
Contact
am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu
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Publication History

"Winslow Homer", Arts (October 1924), pp. 185-209, p. 187, ill.

"A Gift of Paintings by Winslow Homer", Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, March 1940), vol. IX, no. 2, pp. 34-35, p. 35

Winslow Homer, exh. cat., Worcester Art Museum (Worcester, MA, 1944), no. 4

Fogg Art Museum and Benjamin Rowland, Jr., Real and Ideal in American Art, exh. cat. (Cambridge, MA, Summer 1948), cat. 18

Gordon Hendricks, The Life and Work of Winslow Homer, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1979), p. 60, cl-253, p. 296, reproduced b/w

Garnett McCoy, "Lloyd Goodrich Reminisces", Archives of American Art Journal (1980), no.3, pp. 3-18, reproduced b/w, p. 11, text ref. p. 9

Lucretia Hoover Giese, "Winslow Homer's Civil War Painting 'The Initials,' a Little-Known Drawing and Related Works", American Art Journal (1986), vol. XVIII, no. 3, pp. 4-19., p. 17, footnote 4

Lucretia Hoover Giese, "Prisoners from the Front: An American History Painting?", Winslow Homer: Paintings of the Civil War, ed. Marc A. Simpson, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA, 1988), reproduced fig. 1, b/w, p.66; mentioned in text p. 65

Eric M. Rosenberg and Miriam Stewart, The Harvest of 1830: The Barbizon Legacy, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 13

Kate F. Jennings, Winslow Homer, Crescent Books (New York, NY, 1990), reproduced in color p. 21

Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr. and Franklin Kelly, Winslow Homer, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art/Yale University Press (Washington, D.C.; New Haven, CT and London, England, 1995), reproduced in color no. 7, p. 50

Lloyd Goodrich and Abigail Booth Gerdts, Record of Works by Winslow Homer, Spanierman Gallery (New York, 2005-2014), vol. 2, pp. 337-338, no. 272, repr. p. 337, repr. in color p. 386

Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Virginia Anderson, and Kimberly Orcutt, ed., American Paintings at Harvard, Volume Two, Paintings, Drawings, Pastels and Stained Glass by Artists Born 1826-1856, Harvard University Art Museums/Yale University Press (Cambridge, MA and New Haven, CT, 2008), p. 149-50, cat. no. 114, reproduced in color, p. 150

Judy Murray and Ray Williams, Engaging New Americans, Preparing for US Citizenship with the Harvard Art Museums, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2012), ill. p. 36

Exhibition History

Annual Exhibition, 1866, National Academy of Design, New York, 01/01/1866 - 12/31/1866

Winslow Homer Centenary Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 12/15/1936 - 01/15/1937

Winslow Homer, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, 11/16/1944 - 12/17/1944

Real and Ideal in American Art, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 06/01/1948 - 09/01/1948

Winslow Homer, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 04/03/1973 - 06/24/1973

The Harvest of 1830: the Barbizon Legacy, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/25/1990 - 10/21/1990

Winslow Homer, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 02/21/1996 - 05/26/1996

Re-View: S427 Impressionist & Postimpressionist Art, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/02/2008 - 06/18/2011

32Q: 2100 19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014

Subjects and Contexts

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This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu