Standing in the brilliant sunlight of midday, a young woman blows a metal horn to summon the farmhands in the nearby field to their noontime meal. Her feet rest at the end of a well-trod path, suggesting the repetitive nature of this task. A strong gust of wind blows across the foreground from the right, evidenced by Winslow Homer’s skillful depiction of the young woman’s raised, twisting skirt and floating dress strings. Only a narrow corner of the wooden structure to her left can be seen, revealing weathered wooden siding and the edge of a window frame. Thin vines studded with leaves and thorns climb the wall. Below, two potted plants and an overturned metal milk jug form a small still life.
Downhill from the wind-swept figure, a cluster of chickens and a cow are visible in the verdant middle ground. Further in the distance this grassy stretch turns golden brown, suggesting a field of harvested hay. On the far right edge of the field sits a domed haystack. A handful of men in bright shirts are at work nearby, one of whom maneuvers what appears to be a horse-drawn hay mower.
The Dinner Horn is the first in a series of works by Homer from the early 1870s that feature the trumpeting figure of a young woman. It is also an early example of the artist’s exploration of farming subjects. The work was first exhibited in 1871 under the title Blowing the Horn at Seaside.
Winslow Homer was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1836, the second of the three children, all sons, of Henrietta Benson and Charles Savage Homer. His artistic education consisted chiefly of his apprenticeship to the Boston commercial lithographer John H. Bufford, and a few lessons in painting from Frédéric Rondel after that. Following his apprenticeship, Homer worked as a free-lance illustrator for such magazines as Harper's Weekly.
In 1859 he moved to New York City, where began his career as a painter. He visited the front during the Civil War and his first important paintings were of Civil War subjects. In 1867 he spent a year in France. At Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1873 he began to paint in watercolor. In 1875 he submitted his last drawing to Harper's Weekly, ending his career as an illustrator. He traveled widely in the 1870s in New York State, to Virginia, and Massachusetts, and in 1881 he began a two-year stay in England, living in Cullercoats, near Newcastle.
Returning to America in 1883, he settled at Prout's Neck, Maine, where he would live for the rest of his life. He continued to travel widely, to the Adirondacks, Canada, Bermuda, Florida, and the Caribbean, in all those places painting the watercolors upon which much of his later fame would be based. In 1890 he painted the first of the series of seascapes at Prout's Neck that were the most admired of his late paintings in oil. Homer died in his Prout's Neck studio on September 30, 1910.
Source: NGA Systematic Catalogue