Side project – not at all Winslow Homer

This picture keeps zipping by on my Echo Show as it cycles through wallpaper art. Some I recognise – there is a van Gogh and some Gaugin amongst other things – so I assumed this artist was in the same league. But the images aren’t labelled so identification would have been impossible [try searching for ‘man leaning out of boat in a blue sea’, see how far you get] had it not been for a trick using Google Lens, a feature of Google photos which uses an analogue search based on points it picks up in the photograph. It found this one immediately [immediacy doesn’t include having to wait for it to come round on its random shuffle and/or be there when it appears, then getting a snap without anything else in the frame, that took a good few days); it’s The Water Fan by Winslow Homer (1836-1910). Usually working in oils, this one is a watercolour painted in 1898/99 while he was in the Bahamas. The bucket is glass bottomed and used to search for coral. [Source Art Institute Chicago [online] available at

I am attracted to the colours and I thought the angle of the man’s body, the shadows and creases in his clothing, and the shape of the boat would be a challenge. I used acrylics rather than water colour, and the support is duck cotton primed with transparent gesso.

This is the first iteration.



As I’d thought, this man’s head is giving me grief but the shading in his clothing and the shape of the boat are coming on quite nicely. I have fudge his hand for now but I’ll go back to it tomorrow. I can also tackle the odd-shaped mass in the back of the boat now I know it’s likely to be coral. Suddenly ‘water fan’ makes sense – he’s looking for a fan of coral to harvest.

My intention is not to copy as such, but to interpret a little. The use of a different medium means that the brushwork is likely to be different, and because I like quite solid colour in my own work, the depth of applied paint may differ too.

26th July and I’ve noticed that, never mind the dodgy digits, he has an implausibly long arm. Also the bucket is at the wrong angle. Having to correct these mistakes points up the skill of the watercolourist since there is no place to hide corrections in such light washes. I have also found another photograph of this painting where the colours are much brighter, closer to turquoise, and the detail of the man’s face are more apparent.

Remind me never to do hands again. Oscar Wilde is reputed to have remarked that he’d spent ‘all morning putting in a comma, and all afternoon taking it out again’ and I’ve done much the same with this hand. It’s probably taken longer than the whole of the rest of the painting and I am calling it quits. Note: there is more definition to this poor chap’s face on the actual canvas!


Cropped and with background erased in Paintshop Pro.


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