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A small figure kneels among branches while another sits on a horse connected to a long wide object which trails on the ground.

On the left a figure in a soft wide-brimmed hat sits on a horse, leaning forward to pat its neck. There are two chains connected to the horse’s bridle which drag a wide wooden object with many tree branches connected to it. Another figure wearing a pointed brimmed hat sits on another wide piece of wood which rests on the branches, lifted up slightly by the branches which are full and covered with brown leaves past where he sits. The clothing, horse, and branches are similar shades of brown which almost blend into the flat brown colored earth.

Gallery Text

What is the role of art in a time of national mourning? "The Brush Harrow"—one of Homer’s poignant elegies to lives and communities affected by the U.S. Civil War—engages this question. In the 1860s, a brush harrow was an already outmoded tool, using logs and branches to clear a field for the springtime planting. Homer subtly renders the war’s human, socioeconomic, and environmental impact in this metaphorical scene of young children and an aged war horse laboring with imperfect tools in the stead of absent adults. As a freelance illustrator for various New York periodicals and a war correspondent for "Harper’s Weekly," Homer knew that personal stories and measured compositions were effective ways to frame national events. When the painting debuted at the 1866 exhibition of the National Academy of Design, various contemporary critics noted how the restrained figuration, palette, and scale amplified the power of the work.

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


Level 2, Room 2100, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, Centuries of Tradition, Changing Times: Art for an Uncertain Age
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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


Recorded Ownership History
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; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 03/20/2023 - 03/20/2026
  • 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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Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at