One of the more ‘important’ hunting scenes is an autumn scene, a lake wherein a deer swims hard and fast before a boat. The shores and mountains are splendidly dressed in the red and yellow robes of autumn, and there are vivid blue tones in the water of the lake. The coloring is intense, but it is neither unreal nor unpictorial. This illustrates the directness of Mr. Homer’s interpretation and it will be taken as an example of his preference for a high key and for strong color.
— “An Artist in the Adirondacks,” New York Tribune, 26 Feb. 1890
The almost painful disjunction between immense natural beauty and intense natural tragedy [in An October Day] serves as a stringent Darwinian reminder that nature’s operations and human moral and aesthetic values are things very separate and not to be confounded with one another.
—Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr. and Franklin Kelly, Winslow Homer (New Haven: Yale University Press and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1995)
By the 1870s the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York had become a popular destination for sportsmen and tourists, including Homer, who visited the Adirondacks at least twenty-one times from 1870 until his death in 1910, most often to fish and to paint. In 1888 he joined the North Woods Club, a sporting camp near Minerva (where he had first visited in 1870, when it was the Baker Farm—see the commentary on Playing a Fish). During the next few years, he produced nearly one hundred watercolors of the region, painting primarily male sportsmen, frequently with guides, engaged in hunting, fishing, trapping, and exploring. An October Day shows Mink Pond below Beaver Mountain (the same mountain portrayed in Two Guides), not far from the clubhouse of the North Woods Club and one of Homer’s favorite sites. It depicts a method of deer hunting called “hounding,” in which dogs chase the deer into water where the hunter, in a boat, waits to shoot, club, or drown the animal to death. The dog is visible on the shore of the lake at the far right of the picture, forming a triangular composition with the hunter in the canoe at left and the head of the buck in the center foreground. Many condemned hounding as a morally repugnant practice, calling it “abominable” and “animal murder,” and the sensitivity of this work suggests that he sympathized with such criticism.
The light palette of autumnal reds and yellows against the brilliant blues of the sky and water forms a serene mountain scene that belies the violent action about to take place. The smooth, reflective surface of the water indicates a calmness interrupted only by the changing directions of the deer as it attempts to swim for safety and by an ominous black shadow in the left foreground.
—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