Representing the name of . . . Mr. Homer, a farmyard study with the figure of a girl feeding chickens, several sparkling water-color sketches, and two or three careful pencil drawings.
—“City Intelligence. Art at the Century,” Evening Post (New York), 8 Feb. 1875
[W]hat Homer was pursuing in his art during the mid-1870s and indeed for much of his life [was] the depiction of ordinary life without false picturesqueness but with a premeditated artistic perception. Farmyard Scene presents a woman feeding her stock in the warmth of a late afternoon sun. Homer’s direct and truthful observations, joined with a sensitive arrangement of color and light, evoke a simple and harmonious life which was, by 1874, already associated with America’s past.
—Margaret C. Conrads, American Paintings and Sculpture at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1990)
Throughout the 1870s Homer lived and worked primarily in New York City; from 1872 his studio was in the famous Tenth Street Studio Building. Despite living in the city, Homer painted decidedly rural subject matter. Farmyard Scene is one of many pictures by him of simple, everyday scenes of farm life. His attention to formal aspects of the composition is evident in the contrast between the verticals of the chimneys, the windows, and the woman’s figure with the strong horizontals of the roof and the group of birds in the foreground. The careful representation of the patterns of light and shade on the farmhouse seems to have interested the artist more than a detailed portrayal of individual elements, most noticeably the chickens, which are rendered with quick, loose, near-abstract strokes.
The rapid, sketch-like quality of the brushwork suggests that Farmyard Scene may have been painted outdoors. Homer certainly favored such a working method, telling an interviewer in 1880: “I prefer every time a picture composed and painted out-doors. . . Very much of the work now done in studios should be done in the open air. This making studies and then taking them home to use them is only half right.”
After its first public exhibition in 1875 at the Century Club in New York City, nearly a century passed before the work was once again placed on view.
—Susannah Maurer, graduate intern for Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History and member of the Class of 2006, Graduate Program in the History of Art co-sponsored by Williams College and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute