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Eight Bells

Winslow Homer American

Not on view

This painting’s title refers to ships’ timekeeping methods, which are arranged in four-hour watch shifts. Eight rings of the bell signify the end of a shift at 4, 8, and 12 a.m. and p.m. (each toll represents thirty minutes). Here, two sailors record the vessel’s location in rough seas using a sextant and a chronometer, astronomical instruments for calculating longitude from the horizon and celestial objects. Homer expressed interest in writings by oceanographer Matthew Maury (1806–1873), who connected scientific measurement with divine order. The depiction of the sailors’ everyday work thus becomes a meditation on humankind’s struggle to comprehend nature.

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

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