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The painting was made by Winslow Homer (1836–1910). He was an American landscape painter and printmaker, best known for his marine subjects. He is considered one of the foremost painters in 19th-century America and a preeminent figure in American art.
Largely self-taught, Homer began his career working as a commercial illustrator.He subsequently took up oil painting and produced major studio works characterized by the weight and density he exploited from the medium. He also worked extensively in watercolor, creating a fluid and prolific oeuvre, primarily chronicling his working vacations.
The accompanying print shows 'Water Fan' painted in 1898/99. The Water Fan depicts a young black man intently searching for coral using a glass-bottomed bucket. Referred to as a “water glass” or “sponge glass,” this device was used to stabilize the surface of moving water in order to improve visibility. Homer may have been attracted to the subject because it draws attention to the constantly moving surface of the water as well as its transparency, aspects of the sea that especially intrigued him in the Bahamas. Like The Sponge Diver (1898/99; MFA Boston), this work originally had more visible red washes in the water, hinting at the pink coral beneath the surface. While these areas have faded, the fluid strokes of darker blue over layers of transparent turquoise are effective in suggesting the play of light, both direct and reflected, over water.