BRUNSWICK — Winslow Homer was, first and foremost, a painter. But the influence Homer’s love and appreciation for photography had on his art is the subject of a new exhibit at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

The show, called “Winslow Homer and the Camera: Photography and the Art of Painting,” opened Saturday at the museum on the Bowdoin campus and runs until Oct. 28. The exhibition features more than 130 Homer paintings, drawings, prints, photos and archival materials, including his camera.

Admission to the museum is free.

“This exhibition allows us to consider how Homer’s experimentation with photography solidifies the artist as a proto-modern figure, anticipating many of the trends and concerns of American and European artists who followed,” said museum co-director Frank Goodyear III. “

Five years ago, the museum was gifted a camera once owned by Homer, who was born in Boston but lived in moved to Prout’s Neck in Scarborough in the latter part of his life. Goodyear and Bowdoin art history professor Dana Byrd spent years trying to understand how Homer’s interest in photography influenced his own artistic identity.

Byrd, who just returned to Bowdoin after a one-year sabbatical, said she and Goodyear uncovered a new facet of Homer utilizing the museum’s extensive collection of the artist’s work.

“We hope this pioneering framework will lead to continued revelations of how the iconic painter engaged with the modern world,” Byrd said.

During a press preview of the exhibit last week, Goodyear and Byrd spent more than an hour talking about important pieces throughout the gallery space. On display are Homer’s walking stick, palette, water color brushes and two of the three cameras he owned in his lifetime.

Goodyear said Homer, who was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1836 and died in Scarborough in 1910, acquired his first two cameras during a two-year journey to England in his mid-forties seeking a new direction in his art. When he returned, scholars noted a demonstrable change in his style of painting and choice of subjects.

The exhibit questions how new visual technology impacted Homer’s production and how he engaged with his subjects, and it unveils how photography became an increasing part of his visual investigation and broader creative practice.

Despite his obvious affinity for photography, Homer valued painting as the medium best suited to engage with the wider world. He was largely self-educated, and he developed an artistic practice using direct observation and a search for the truth during a period transformed by the introduction of photography.

At the beginning, Homer used photographs as source material for his art, and he used photomechanical processes to reproduce his paintings for the art marketplace.

He began taking his own photos and took the medium seriously in the 1880s, and Homer became more concerned with the visual effects specific to photography and the opportunities for new modes of looking it prompted.

The exhibit covers most of the museum’s lower level and is broken into chronological sections of Homer’s life.

The first gallery features work from the years immediately preceding and during the Civil War. There are prints depicting the inaugural of Abraham Lincoln, a composite image of then-senator Jefferson Davis and a graphite, charcoal and white chalk piece showing Union soldiers marching through an open field.

“The pieces from the Civil War are striking, and it presents an opportunity to see how the battle was viewed through someone who wasn’t fighting but still on the front lines,” said Amy Millstone, who viewed the exhibit with her husband, Roger, on Saturday.

Homer’s portrait of Lincoln was published on the cover of the Nov. 10, 1860, issue of Harper’s intended to celebrate the election of the new president four days earlier, Goodyear said. He said Harper’s probably asked Homer to prepare the engraving in advance of the vote, so the work was completed with a tight deadline.

“To think that Homer could’ve done that portrait and put in the time and effort not knowing for sure that Lincoln was even going to be elected is hard to grasp,” Roger Millstone said.

Goodyear said Homer didn’t have a classic art education, but he learned largely from his mother, Henrietta Benson Homer. Benson Homer has several watercolors on display in the front of the exhibit that was a gift from the Homer family to the museum more in 1964.

One of the other prominent pieces in the first gallery is called “Sharpshooter,” Homer’s first exhibited painting. It makes use of compositional strategies like a directed gaze, tight cropping and nuanced details.

The face of the solider aiming a long rifle is largely featureless and it directs the viewer to the figure perched above the ground. There is little background in the oil painting beyond some tree branches.

“He’s a killing machine with the latest long rifle, and part of the drama is that you can’t really see the target he’s aiming for,” Goodyear said. “It’s a painting fraught with tension and intrigue.”

Homer wasn’t interested in painting traditional battlefield scenes, Goodyear said, but he instead wanted to probe the experience of soldiers on the front lines who were confronting the hardship and death associated with war.

“He had a deep and ongoing interest in looking and using different devices to look, like a camera,” Byrd said.

The Bowdoin College Museum of Art is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 10 a.m., to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday; and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

The museum is hosting a keynote program led by Goodyear and Byrd providing an orientation to the exhibition’s themes and gallery talks led by art historians Susan Danly and Linda Docherty.

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