three men at edge of boat with one man in water

The Conch Divers, 1885

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The New England painter Winslow Homer accepted an assignment in 1884 from Century magazine to illustrate an article on Nassau titled “A Midwinter Resort.” The trip inspired more than thirty watercolors, including this one. The startling intensity of the light, combined with a newcomer’s delight and an illustrator’s eye for quick execution, gives a fresh clarity to Homer’s images of the West Indies.

Here, the diagonal rail of the boat leads the eye to the three divers on board. Tightly grouped, they look not at the emerging diver but at the flat expanse of blue water. Alert, focused, and—judging by their animated feet—eagerly expectant, they are searching for conchs, mollusks used as food and bait.

The swift skill of Homer’s handling is evident in the clouds and the vessel; graphite contours are visible mainly in the figures, rope, and rigging. The paper was left untouched in areas of the men’s white pants, which contrast with their dark skin. Originally the bobbing figure had one arm extended, but Homer scraped it out and painted swirls of blue water to hide the traces.

The Conch Divers
Artist Life
Accession Number
[Reichard and Company, New York, from 1885]; Russell Sturgis, New York (by 1887-d. 1909); [Macbeth Galleries, New York, 1915; sold August 28 to MIA].
Curator Approved

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three men at edge of boat with one man in water