"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Friday, September 3, 2021

The Schoolteacher

This 1873 painting entitled The Red School House by Winslow Homer hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Shown nearly full-length, a young schoolteacher fills the foreground of The Red Schoolhouse. Standing on a wide dirt path or road, she gazes off to her right with a solemn expression, holding two books in her left hand and the striped fabric of her flounced skirt in her right. Around her neck the teacher wears a lacy triangular shawl known as a fichu that appears to be fastened with a square gold brooch or button. Her black and white ruffled bonnet is similarly elegant. Though only roughly sketched, the building behind the central figure is recognizable as a small red schoolhouse toward which a trio of schoolgirls appear to be headed. The surrounding landscape, lush and green, is silhouetted against a wide expanse of sky that glows with the warm, bright colors of early morning.

The Red School House is related to a series of school subjects that Winslow Homer painted from 1871 to 1874. Though he varied the composition and narrative emphasis across the series, three elements remain consistent: a small red schoolhouse, its young female teacher, and a luminous mountain setting. Homer’s attention to this theme reflected a popular wave of nostalgia in late 19th-century America for small country schools and the simpler lifestyle they recalled. Part of a larger body of paintings of children completed in the 1870s, Homer’s school subjects, including The Red School House, simultaneously express the country’s sense of optimism for future generations in the wake of the Civil War -- NGA
Homer 1873

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