News from the War

Click image to enlarge

News from the War
1862
Winslow Homer
1836-1910
published by Harper's Weekly June 14, 1862
Wood engraving on paper
13 3/8 x 20 5/16 in. (image); 15 5/8 x 22 1/4 in. (sheet)
The Art Institute of Chicago
Gift of Arthur and Hilda Wenig
2001.790

“News of the war! We all live on it,” declared the Harper’s Weekly article that accompanied this image. The magazine’s “special artist,” Winslow Homer, created a picture of “the thrilling effect” that news had on people across the country. Can you see what is happening in each of these scenes? In our own time when news is available “24/7”, it is hard to imagine how desperate people were for news from the Civil War, and it is this aspect of the homefront that Homer seeks to show. In the lower right, newspapers are thrown off of a train and eager newsboys scramble to retrieve them. In the upper left, two sailors wait for letters from mailbags to be distributed on board a ship. In the central frame, a woman’s slumped body conveys the bad news that her loved one has been wounded. Below and to the left is a small scene, “News for the Staff”, depicting the arrival of a courier with news for a commanding officer in the field. At top right, wounded soldiers who have returned home speak to a woman in the street. The artist even depicts himself sketching “the news”: two tall soldiers whose names and height are inscribed on the image in the lower left frame. During the Civil War, news came from newspapers, magazines, letters, and the telegraph, and it could take days or weeks to reach people, if it was delivered at all. Homer uses these scenes to convey the importance of being in the know, and the, at times, distressing effect such knowledge could have.

Questions:
1. If a contemporary artist wished to portray all the ways news is spread today, what would he or she have to include?

2. In the image that shows the wounded soldiers on the right, how can you tell it’s set in the South?

Further reading:
Brooklyn Museum of Art. "Collections: American Art: News from the War." http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/159402/Filling_Cartridges_at_the_United_States_Arsenal_at_Watertown_Massachusetts.

Portland Museum of Art. “Winslow Homer Illustrations.” http:/www.portlandmuseum.org/exhibitions-collections/illustrations.shtml
*For the details on the image click on “Zoom in on 250 Illustrations.”

Simpson, Marc. Winslow Homer: Paintings of the Civil War. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: Bedford Arts, 1988.

Tatham, David. Winslow Homer and the Pictorial Press. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2003.


© Art Institute of Chicago
For information about reproducing collection images, please contact Image Licensing at the Art Institute of Chicago.