Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)
Oil on canvas
12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8 cm)
Gift of Christian A. Zabriskie, 1950 (50.41)
Children embodied innocence and the promise of America's future and were depicted by many artists and writers during the 1870s. Here Homer reminisces about rural simplicity and reflects on the challenges of the complex post–Civil War world. Released from the confines of a one-room schoolhouse, exuberant boys engage in a spirited game. As the population shifted to cities and the little red schoolhouse faded from memory, this image would have evoked nostalgia for the nation's agrarian past. The boys' bare feet signal childhood's freedom but their suspenders are associated with manhood's responsibilities. Their game, which requires teamwork, strength, and calculation, may allude to the reunited nation. Observed from right to left, Homer's boys hang on to one another, strain to stay connected, run in perfect harmony, and fall away, enacting all the possible scenarios for men after the Civil War.