10 3/4 x 18 1/4 inches
Winslow Homer's sole artistic training was an apprenticeship to a Boston lithographer. He then worked as a freelance illustrator, first for Ballou's Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, and then documenting the Civil War for Harper's Weekly.
After the war, Homer began painting and was soon made a member of the National Academy. He made his first trip abroad from 1865 to 1867, when his Prisoners from the Front (1866) and The Bright Side (1865) were shown at the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris. While in France he executed 19 paintings, Cernay-la-Ville–French Farm among them, and three illustrations. Homer's stay abroad, however short, presents a problem in art-historical scholarship. His susceptibility to European art has largely been dismissed in the critical literature, which has favored a narrative in which Homer is a uniquely American master untainted by foreign influences.
Cernay-la-Ville–French Farm is a small oil painting on a mahogany panel. The composition is simple and balanced. A cluster of distant buildings, reduced to geometric essentials, sits on a low horizon within the landscape. The scene is generalized, with very few details, and there is a certain hardness in the delineation of forms. Homer's brushstrokes are quick and active, suggesting rapid execution, perhaps en plein air, or "in the open air." They draw attention to the process of painting itself. The painting lacks conventional finish and patches of the mahogany show through in places. Although Homer has painted a rural landscape, he gives it none of the sentimental or emotional content common in landscapes of the nineteenth century.
Text by Stacy Fuessle, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008