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Winslow Homer American

Not on view

In this dramatic if curiously hushed scene—allegedly based on the same event in Atlantic City that inspired the earlier The Life Line—rescuers struggle to bring ashore two semiconscious women, weighed down by their waterlogged bathing dresses. Long viewed as an outcome of Homer’s informal studies abroad—with its sensuously modeled figures evocative of classical sculpture—the composition consumed him for more than three years; a series of pencil drawings reveals how he experimented with the figural placement. Foregrounding human frailty in the face of the ocean’s force, Undertow possesses a visual power that resides in its intense narrative and formal ambition. As one critic observed on its New York display, "The picture is a masterpiece; it lacks but a breath to make it monumental."

Undertow, Winslow Homer (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1836–1910 Prouts Neck, Maine), Oil on canvas, American

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