This dramatic and unique painting is one of the masterworks by American artist Winslow Homer, who captured so many quintessential American scenes with his unique style in the last decades of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th. This picture, The Gulf Stream, depicts an African-American man adrift in a broken sailboat somewhere in tropical waters. One notices the swarming sharks, teeming for a frenzy, immediately, but it may take you a bit longer to notice another danger on the horizon, that being the waterspout headed his way. The grim determination of the sailor to make it through these dangers is evident in his fierce expression. This is a terrific painting because it melds the human and nonhuman worlds into a perfect and meaningful whole, with an interesting story to tell and a feast for the eyes.
Winslow Homer had barely started his career as an artist when the U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861. He turned immediately toward documenting the conflict through art, and ultimately produced some amazing pictures; one of them, Prisoners from the Front, painted in 1866, was recreated as a scene in the 1993 film Gettysburg and ranks as one of the most recognizable pieces of artwork depicting the war. After peace came Homer turned to pastoral scenes and the occasional marine picture, a milieu to which he often returned in his later years. His paintings of boats, landscapes and women evoke the curious combination of powerful natural forces and modern humanity that was so much a part of culture at the end of the 19th century. Homer died in 1910.
This is truly an amazing picture! The original is held in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.