Snap the Whip

Artist: Winslow Homer (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1836–1910 Prouts Neck, Maine)

Date: 1872

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Gift of Christian A. Zabriskie, 1950

Accession Number: 50.41


In the years after America’s brutal Civil War (1861-65), children—as embodiments of innocence and the promise of America’s future—became a popular artistic subject. Snap the Whip, one of Homer’s most beloved works, evoked nostalgia for the nation’s agrarian past as the population shifted to cities, and the little red schoolhouse faded from memory. Released from their lessons, the exuberant bare-footed boys engage in a spirited game of snap the whip, which required teamwork, strength, and calculation—all important skills for a reuniting country. An earlier, larger version of this subject (Butler Institute of American Art) was among the most celebrated paintings at the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition, held in Philadelphia—America’s first world’s fair. The Met’s version differs from the original in its background, with a wide blue sky replacing a lush mountain range, making the image less regionally specific.