Updated: June 13, 2011



These Study Guides on War and Art were originally prepared for a course entitled "Responses to War: An Intellectual and Cultural History" given in the Department of History at The University of Adelaide between 1989 and 1999.

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Winslow Homer, "The Veteran in a New Field" (1865)



Winslow Homer. Paintings of the Civil War, ed. Marc Simpson (The Fine Art Museums of San Francisco, Bedford Arts, 1988).

Julian Grossman, The Civil War: Battlefields and Campgrounds in the Art of Winslow Homer (New York: Abradale Press/Harry N. Abrams, 1991).


Self-taught painter, worked as illustrator and wood engraver, made sketches when observing Gen, McClelland's Peninsular campaign in Virginia late 1862. Returned more than 20 times to paint civil war themes in oil to gain reputation as the best chronicler of the war. Themes he uses: mortality, isolation and adversity of nature. "Democratic" perspective as interested in life of ordinary soldiers. Lloyd Goodrich observes that Homer's oil paintings

were not military subjects in the ususal sense, but genre pictures of military life. But with all his avoidance of the tragic aspects of war, no other artist left so authentic a record of how the Civil War soldier looked and acted. (1)

WH most closely attached to 61st New York Infantry Regiment of Army Second Corps. Worked as freelance illustrator for Harper's Weekly. Sketches Licoln's inauguration March 1861; follows Army of the Potomac as "special artist" for Harper's.

Bayonet Charge (28K)

1. Simpson, Winslow Homer, p. 14


War and Art


Other paintings:

Examples of Harper's Weekly Illustrations used for propaganda purposes

  • OH "Our Army before Yorktown" p. 26. HW unbable to see battle but illustrated 61st during religious services
  • OH "Surgeon at Work" p. 29. Prompt attention unlikely.
  • OH "Wounded Soldier Being Given a Drink" (1864)

Home Sweet Home (1863)

"The Veteran in a New Field" (1865).


The Veteran in a New Field (102K) is one of his most famous paintings. Extraordinary work because WH had only been painting for 5 years and exhibiting for 2. Dramatic change in topic and style from early propaganda illustrations for Harper's.

3 parts: veteran with scythe seen from behind and placed in centre of painting with army jacket and canteen in lower right-hand corner, earth and field of wheat, band of sky. Painted 4-5 months after surrender at Appomattox 9 April 1865 and captures his thoughts about significance of Confed surrender and end of the war.

Symbolic references to:

  • Roman leader Cincinnatus who left farm to assume dictatorship of Rome, defend it against enemies, relinquished political office and dictatorial power to return to farm to peaceful occupations. Veteran American Cincinnatus model republcian soldier.
  • Biblical reference to Isaiah 2:4 "And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." Need to heal torn nation after bitter 4 year conflict

Celebration of end of the war:

  • bounty of harvests during war, US still largely agricultural nation, dependent upon harvests during war for supplies, no poor harvest during war years, avoided hardship for both civilians and military (1.5 million in army). Harvest of 1865 was especially good

Darker meaning of the scythe:

  • WH deliberatley chose incorrect agricultural implement (single-blade scythe instead of cradled scythe) in order to make reference to Death as grim reaper. Veteran once harvester of men. Compare OH O'Sullivan's photo of the "Harvest of Death" at Gettysburg.

Political meaning of the veteran who willingly demobilises and returns to civilian life after war service. Strength of American democracy and republican system. Problem of demobilising New Model Army, backpay, indemnity for loss of life and property. If army refused to demobilise danger of US becoming a European-style military dictatorship. Social problems of traumatised veterans seem to have been avoided.

Mourning and grieving for assassination of Abraham Lincoln 15 April 1865. Cut down by assassin. Elegy upon the death of Lincoln: simplicxity, solemnity, wheat sheaves used to decorate coffins

Timothy O'Sullivan, "Harvest of Death" (Gettysburg July 1863)