Art and Artifice
Winslow Homer, 1909
Oil on canvas 1909
This painting has a variety of origin stories told in old art books and Winslow Homer biographies. In one telling, a friend of Homer's left a pair of slain ducks at Homer's door after a hunting trip, and Homer used this for models to paint this picture. In another telling, Homer got the idea of doing this photo by seeing the pair of ducks prior to cleaning, when he purchased them for a Thanksgiving Day meal, and so impressed by their plumage, he set out to paint them. Another story in Homer literature is that Homer hired a man to fire off blank charges towards him while he was standing on a cliff taking notes, and he arranged this painting to demonstrate the remarkable skill of killing two ducks with two shots, one-after-another, with a double-barrelled shotgun.
All three of these stories are disputed by modern art historians for a variety of reasons, though the number one is that the golden-eyed duck depicted in this painting is not considered a good fowl for cooking and eating, and Homer would not have chosen it for purchase being well aware of the difference in palatability of duck types.
The title itself is attributed to a sportsman who saw the painting and called it "right and left" after the manner in which a hunter gets off two shots from the same gun. The original title was probably "The Golden Eye or Whistler's Duck," as that was what was used to identify it at M. Knoedler & Co. art gallery in New York City where it was sold for $5,000.
Other analysis goes down two main threads, one being this shows the influence of Japanese art upon Homer (consciously or not) as he had been well aware of several Japanese artists since 1870.
The other thread is more immediate considering that Homer died a year and one-half after it's completion. Homer had written his brother Charles a note regarding the work on this painting, calling it a "most surprising picture." Homer had also written to Charles to simply state "I am painting," which was remarkable because Homer had suffered a stroke in May of 1908 which had left him weakened and temporarily paralyzed.
The immediacy and inconvenience of death is a kind of theme that art historians have placed upon the picture, which in summation could be Homer contemplating his deteriorating health and concluding "I'm a dead duck."
Right and Left was the second to last completed painting Homer made before dying of a hemorrhage in September 19, 1910.
Detail of Right and Left painted by Winslow Homer in 1909
Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice - AMAZON Published by Watson-Guptill, 256 pages
Original Page May 16, 2022