Homer was a pragmatic artist who regularly reused motifs and expanded his market through the use of different media. For him, art was business. When he painted oils, especially later in his career, he did so with a clear purpose: to make money. In 1893 he wrote, “At present and for some time past I see no reason why I should paint any pictures. P.S. I will paint for money at any time. Any subject, any size.”

And yet, there are a few pictures that Homer finished but did not send out into the world, leaving much to speculation. Were the subjects too private? Was his treatment too bold? Did he like them too much to part with them?

Answers to such questions have eluded researchers, but Sterling Clark clearly considered these pictures entirely suitable for public display. He bought two of these private works late in his collecting career. Sleigh Ride was purchased in 1944, when Clark was actively planning his museum, and Playing a Fish in early 1955, when the museum was just about to open. Clark was right about the general appeal of these more personal works—for many visitors, Sleigh Ride is one of Homer’s most memorable pictures.

Sleigh Ride, c. 1890–95

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