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Gallery Text

In The Brush Harrow, one of Homer’s most sensitive and poignant post–Civil War paintings, two boys prepare a field for spring planting. Unlike other nineteenth-century genre scenes, which celebrate the whimsical spirit of childhood, this work has a tragic cast. The boys do the work of men in the absence of men. Indirectly acknowledging the carnage of the war, Homer implies that the older farmhands — the boys’ fathers, uncles, and older brothers — have not returned from the battlefield.

At the end of the Civil War, Americans mourned the dead and at the same time looked forward to the nation’s economic, political, and spiritual rebirth. Invoking agrarian cycles and the promise of a new generation even as it acknowledges loss, The Brush Harrow perfectly captures the mixture of hope and sadness that defined the national psyche.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Winslow Homer, American (Boston, MA 1836 - 1910 Prouts Neck, ME)
The Brush Harrow
Other Titles
Former Title: Harrowing, Spring Time
Work Type
Creation Place: North America, United States
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Oil on canvas
61 x 96 cm (24 x 37 13/16 in.)
frame: 88.9 x 124.4 x 8.9 cm (35 x 49 x 3 1/2 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: l.l.: HOMER--NY 65
Winslow Homer, sold [through Henry H. Leeds and Miner, New York, 1866]. A. M. Cozzens, New York, circa 1866, sold [through Levitt, Strebeigh and Co., 1868]; to Judge William W. Goodrich, Brooklyn, NY, 1868, by descent; to his son Henry W. Goodrich, Nutley, NJ, circa 1906, sold [through M. Knoedler and Co., New York, 1921]; to Horace D. Chapin, Boston, MA, 1921, gift; to his sister, Mrs. Robert B. Osgood, Boston, 1937, gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1939
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Anonymous Gift
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

"Editor’s Easy Chair", Harper's New Monthly Magazine, vol. 33, no. 193, pp. 117-118, June 1866, p. 117

“An Interesting Exhibition of Pictures", New York Evening Post, p. 2, November 16, 1866, p. 2

“Art Lines. III—How to Criticize Paintings", Beadle's Monthly, vol. 2, no. 12, pp. 260-267, September 1866, pp. 265-66

“Fine Arts. The Forty-first Exhibition of the National Academy of Design. Fourth Notice”, The Nation, vol. 2, no. 51, pp. 666-667, May 25, 1866, p. 666

“National Academy of Design. Forty-first Annual Exhibition", New York Leader, April 21, 1866

“Nebulae. The National Academy of Design Exhibition", The Galaxy, vol. 1, pp. 269-274, June 1, 1866, p. 274

Masquerade, “Pictures at the Academy of Design. Third Article", New York Commercial Advertiser, p. 2, May 7, 1866, p. 2

“Pictures on Exhibition", The Nation, vol. 3, no. 73, pp. 415-416, November 22, 1866, p. 416

“Fine Arts. The Forty-first Exhibition of the National Academy of Design. First Notice", The Nation, vol. 2, no. 47, pp. 602-603, May 11, 1868, p. 603

"Winslow Homer", Arts (October 1924), pp. 185-209, p. 187, ill.

"A Gift of Paintings by Winslow Homer", Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, March 1940), vol. IX, no. 2, pp. 34-35, p. 35

Winslow Homer, exh. cat., Worcester Art Museum (Worcester, MA, 1944), no. 4

Fogg Art Museum and Benjamin Rowland, Jr., Real and Ideal in American Art, exh. cat. (Cambridge, MA, Summer 1948), cat. 18

Gordon Hendricks, The Life and Work of Winslow Homer, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1979), p. 60, cl-253, p. 296, reproduced b/w

Garnett McCoy, "Lloyd Goodrich Reminisces", Archives of American Art Journal (1980), no.3, pp. 3-18, reproduced b/w, p. 11, text ref. p. 9

Lucretia Hoover Giese, "Winslow Homer's Civil War Painting 'The Initials,' a Little-Known Drawing and Related Works", American Art Journal (1986), vol. XVIII, no. 3, pp. 4-19., p. 17, footnote 4

Lucretia Hoover Giese, "Prisoners from the Front: An American History Painting?", Winslow Homer: Paintings of the Civil War, ed. Marc A. Simpson, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA, 1988), reproduced fig. 1, b/w, p.66; mentioned in text p. 65

Eric M. Rosenberg and Miriam Stewart, The Harvest of 1830: The Barbizon Legacy, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 13

Kate F. Jennings, Winslow Homer, Crescent Books (New York, NY, 1990), reproduced in color p. 21

Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr. and Franklin Kelly, Winslow Homer, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art/Yale University Press (Washington, D.C.; New Haven, CT and London, England, 1995), reproduced in color no. 7, p. 50

Lloyd Goodrich and Abigail Booth Gerdts, Record of Works by Winslow Homer, Spanierman Gallery (New York, 2005-2014), vol. 1, pp. 126, 304, 337-338, no. 272, repr. p. 337, repr. in color p. 386; vol. 2, p. 410

Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Virginia Anderson, and Kimberly Orcutt, ed., American Paintings at Harvard, Volume Two, Paintings, Drawings, Pastels and Stained Glass by Artists Born 1826-1856, Harvard Art Museums and Yale University Press (U.S.) (Cambridge, MA and New Haven, CT, 2008), p. 149-50, cat. no. 114, reproduced in color, p. 150

Judy Murray and Ray Williams, Engaging New Americans, Preparing for US Citizenship with the Harvard Art Museums, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2012), ill. p. 36

Rebecca Bedell, Moved to Tears: Rethinking the Art of the Sentimental in the United States, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ, 2018), pp. 113, 115, 116, fig. 65

Ethan Lasser, "The Artist as Journalist", The Magazine Antiques (November/December 2019), pp. 86-93, pp. 91, 93, repr. p. 91 as fig. 8

Colleen Walsh, "The Artist as Witness", The Harvard Gazette (September 13, 2019), e-journal, repr.,, accessed September 17, 2019

Aimee Dawson, "Winslow Homer Beach Paintings - Cut in Half after a Bad Review - Reunited for Cape Ann Museum Show", The Art Newspaper (August 1, 2019),, accessed August 1, 2019

Aimee Dawson, "Winslow Homer's Odyssey: from Battlefield to Beach", The Art Newspaper Review (July/August 2019), No. 314, p. 13

Murray Whyte, [review:] "Harvard Rethinks Winslow Homer's Civil War Legacy with Provocative 'Eyewitness' Show", The Boston Globe (October 3, 2019), repr.

Murray Whyte, "'Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents' Offers a Completist's View at the Met", The Boston Globe (Boston, June 26, 2022), p. N4, repr.

William R. Cross, Winslow Homer: American Passage, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, 2022), pp. 98-99, repr. p. 99 as fig. 56

Stephanie Herdrich and Sylvia Yount, Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 2022), pp. 147, 150, 190 n. 99, repr. p. 35

Exhibition History

Annual Exhibition, 1866, National Academy of Design, New York, 04/16/1866 - 07/04/1866

Winslow Homer Centenary Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 12/15/1936 - 01/15/1937

Winslow Homer, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, 11/16/1944 - 12/17/1944

Real and Ideal in American Art, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 06/01/1948 - 09/01/1948

Winslow Homer, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 04/03/1973 - 06/24/1973

The Harvest of 1830: the Barbizon Legacy, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/25/1990 - 10/21/1990

Winslow Homer, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 02/21/1996 - 05/26/1996

Re-View: S427 Impressionist & Postimpressionist Art, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/02/2008 - 06/18/2011

32Q: 2100 19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 07/09/2018

Winslow Homer: Eyewitness, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/31/2019 - 01/05/2020

Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 04/11/2022 - 07/31/2022

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

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