A series of six pencil sketches . . . are studies for Homer’s painting, Undertow, also in the Clark Art Institute. The drawings have been with the painting since 1900 when Homer gave them to Mr. Edward D. Adams, New York, who had purchased the painting from the artist in 1889. The following letter from Homer, dated May 12, 1900, now in the Clark Art Institute, accompanied the drawings: “I have hunted up these different studies of the subject of the painting—‘Undertow’ that I promised to give to you—I take pleasure in sending these things to you—They will amuse you much.”
The painting, Undertow, was based on a rescue witnessed by Homer in 1883 at Atlantic City, and was begun that year and completed in 1886.
The first study shows three figures standing knee-deep in the surf; the central figure is apparently the rescued swimmer. The sketch is partially framed by a line in black chalk, drawn at the right and bottom in several positions. At lower right, inverted and partially covered with black chalk scribbling, is a lightly drawn profile.
Homer may have made changes in the left half of this composition in a drawing (now lost) placed over the left side of the sheet, as evidenced by the horizontal line in black chalk which stops abruptly in the center of the drawing and by the cleaner appearance of the left side of the paper. This device of revising a section of the composition by the use of an overlay is found in other studies for Undertow [IV and V].
On the reverse is a sketch in pencil of three sheep, a favorite subject of Homer while at Houghton Farm in 1878. A similar drawing, dated October 15, 1878, is in the Cooper Union Museum.1
1. Acc. No. 1912-12-56, -55
—Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, Standish D. Lawder, and Charles W. Talbot, Jr., Drawings from the Clark Art Institute, 2 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964), 1:142-44, no. 342.