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“Eight Bells” by Winslow Homer

"Eight Bells" by Winslow Homer

“Eight Bells” by Winslow Homer

“Eight Bells” by Winslow Homer depicts two sailors determining their ship’s latitude. It is one of Homer’s best-known paintings that dramatically narrates humanity’s relationship to the ocean.

This painting was the culmination of a series of oil paintings that Homer made in Maine. Several years earlier, Homer, a painted watercolor on his voyage to England, also showed a sailor performing this activity.

“Eight Bells” refers to the watch system, computed as one bell every 30 minutes. “Eight bells” can be either 8 o’clock, 12 o’clock, or 4 o’clock.

The two sailors dominate the foreground, and the details of the ship are minimized. Homer shows the figure left using an octant to take a reading of the sun; the other sailor is reading the altitude of a completed sight on his octant.

Eight Bells

  • Title:                 Eight Bells
  • Artist:               Winslow Homer
  • Year:                 1886
  • Medium:          Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:     Height: 63.9 cm (25.1″); Width: 76.6 cm (30.1″)
  • Museum:         Addison Gallery of American Art

Eight Bells – Etching in black ink

"Eight Bells" by Winslow Homer

Eight Bells – Etching by Winslow Homer

In 1887 one year later, Winslow Homer produced an etching based on the painting, in which he further minimized the ship’s rigging and diminished the area of sky, focusing more on the figures.

The moment is presented as a heroic image against the treachery and violence of the sea.

Eight Bells – Etching

  • Title:                Eight Bells
  • Artist:              Winslow Homer
  • Year:                1887
  • Medium:          etching in black ink p, light beige, medium-thick, smooth-textured wove paper
  • Dimensions:    Height: 60.6 cm (23.8″); Width: 74.6 cm (29.3″)
  • Category:         American Art
  • Museum:         Brooklyn Museum

A look at Winslow Homer’s ‘Eight Bells’

Winslow Homer

Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910) was best known for his marine subjects and is considered one of the foremost painters in 19th-century America. Mostly self-taught, Homer began his career working as a commercial illustrator.

Winslow Homer started his career as an art reporter during the American Civil War. After the war, the rural world which then prevailed in American painting.

After spending time in Paris, Homer experimented with his Impressionist style to develop his signature style midway between Realism and Symbolism.

Homer produced significant studio oil works, but he also worked extensively in watercolor, creating a rich legacy, primarily chronicling his working vacations.

Winslow Homer

Winslow Homer’s long love affair with the sea

Quote about the Sea

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“To me, the sea is a continual miracle; The fishes that swim, the rocks, the motion of the waves, the ships with men in them. What stranger miracles are there?” – Walt Whitman.

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“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.” – Vincent Van Gogh.

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“My soul is longing for the secrets of the sea, and the heart of the great ocean sends a thrilling pulse through me.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

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“In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans.” – Kahlil Gibran.

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“Just as the wave cannot exist for itself, but is ever a part of the heaving surface of the ocean, so must I never live my life for itself, but always in the experience which is going on around me.” – Albert Schweitzer.

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“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” –  Jacques Yves Cousteau.

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“Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson.

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“It is extraordinary to see the sea; what a spectacle! She is so unfettered that one wonders whether it is possible that she again become calm.” – Claude Monet.

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“If we must not act save on a certainty, we ought not to act on religion, for it is not certain. But how many things we do on an uncertainty, sea voyages, battles!” – Blaise Pascal

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“I could never stay long enough on the shore; the tang of the untainted, fresh, and free sea air was like a cool, quieting thought.” – Helen Keller.

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“There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about the sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath.” – Herman Melville.

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“The sea is everything. It covers seven-tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides.” – Jules Verne.

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“When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.” – Rainer Maria.

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“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch-we are going back from whence we came.” – John F. Kennedy.

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“England, in a way, is lucky. It’s an island, so the frontiers are given by the sea.” – Salman Rushdie.

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“I have always heard, Sancho, that doing good to base fellows is like throwing water into the sea.” – Miguel de Cervantes.

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“The virtues are lost in self-interest as rivers are lost in the sea.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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“The sea has never been friendly to man. At most, it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.” – Joseph Conrad.

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“For whatever we lose (like you or me), it’s always our self we find in the sea.” – E.E. Cummings.

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Eight Bells by Winslow Homer

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“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”  
– Vincent Van Gogh

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Photo Credit: 1) Winslow Homer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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