Summer Night
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Gallery Text

On loan to the Harvard Art Museums from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Summer Night is often described as one of the most extraordinary nocturnes in the history of American art. Homer painted this scene of two women dancing in the moonlight at the water's edge after settling permanently on the Maine coast. Focusing on women at leisure, and juxtaposing the transience of human action with the timeless, elemental force of the sea, Summer Night brings together many of the themes that Homer explored throughout his career. At the same time, the painting is distinctive for its inherent sense of mystery: with its broad brushstrokes, blurry figures, and compressed middle ground, the scene is characterized by a certain otherworldly, lyrical air. One New York critic described the two dancers as “the youthful witches of Endor.”

Like many of the artists in this gallery, Homer traveled to Paris early in his career, and ultimately came to share the French avant-garde’s interest in outdoor light, free brushwork, and flat, simple forms. Largely through the success of this painting, he also gained an international reputation. In 1900, after failing to find a buyer in New York, Homer sent this painting to the Exposition Universelle in Paris, where it received a gold medal. The French government ultimately purchased the picture for its showplace of contemporary art, the Musée du Luxembourg, where it was reputedly admired by Claude Monet.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Winslow Homer, American (Boston, MA 1836 - 1910 Prouts Neck, ME)
Summer Night
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Nuit d’été
Work Type
Level 2, Room 2700, European and American Art, 19th century, Impressionism and the Late Nineteenth Century
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Physical Descriptions
Oil on canvas
76.5 × 102 cm (30 1/8 × 40 3/16 in.)
frame: 116 × 142 cm (45 11/16 × 55 7/8 in.)
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Paris, Musée d'Orsay
Object Number
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Publication History

Lloyd Goodrich and Abigail Booth Gerdts, Record of Works by Winslow Homer, Spanierman Gallery (New York, 2005-2014)

Exhibition History

32Q: 2700 Impressionism, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/13/2016