Homer adored Quebec: “The place suits me as if it was made for me by a kind of providence,” he wrote. He contemplated visiting the Canadian province in 1892, and he was certainly there, fishing, in 1893. When he went next—in 1895, and again in 1897 and 1902—he brought his painting materials as well as his fishing tackle. He and his brother Charles were members of the Tourilli Fish and Game Club in the southern Laurentides, where they had a cabin built. But they also spent time farther north, on the shores of Lake St. John and its principal outlet, the Saguenay River. This is the important Quebeçois site for the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. The two first watercolors by Homer that Clark acquired, in the spring of 1917, were The Eagle’s Nest (Homer’s inscription on the back identifies the site as Roberval, at the southern tip of Lake St. John) and A Good Pool,Saguenay River.
Lake St. John and the Saguenay River were popular with gentlemen anglers, who stayed in one of the three large tourist hotels developed in the area, because of the fresh water salmon (the “fighting” ouananiche) that lived there and nowhere else. Reputed to be “the bravest warrior of all creatures that swim,” the ounaniche was the lure for Homer, artist and angler—this is the leaping fish hooked in A Good Pool.
But Homer also turned his attention to other aspects of the wilderness, as here, where two men—to judge from their dress, a guide and a tourist—pull their canoe to shore, both looking up at the circling birds; Homer called them eagles, but more recent observers note that they represent ospreys. Homer’s washes seem quickly done, his concern with detail sacrificed for the tonal drama of dark tree and birds against the luminous gray sky. The leg of the nearer man, for example, is unresolved; but, as a critic observed of a group of these Canadian works shown in late 1902: “Even before one approaches near enough to study the individual pictures, their aggregate effect communicates an exhilaration, for bigness of feeling, directness of expression, and spontaneous force carry their message even from a distance. And the nearer view sustains the impression.”
Homer apparently valued the sheet. When his dealers in 1907 asked about materials for an illustrated article on his work, he responded: “Look here—! . . . Many a thing has passed through your hands that would have been very beautiful in an article for illustration take the ‘Diamond Shoal Light Ship’ or ‘The Eagles Nest.’” And although, so far as we know, the work was first exhibited only in late 1910, after the painter’s death, Lloyd Goodrich (the principal twentieth-century scholar of Homer’s work) did indeed select this to illustrate his earliest article on the artist in 1924.
—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