• Fred R. Kline

Little Known Masterpiece Department

Winslow Homer, "A Summer Night" (30 x 40 inches, oil on canvas, 1890; painted in Prouts Neck, Maine,), Collection, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

The painting invites a rich sensory experience. Listen to the music of the night mingling with the breaking waves...smell and feel the fresh ocean breezes...watch the mesmerizing moonlight on the water...smile at the two dancers bond of friendship; perhaps they are singing a popular song, like "Buffalo Gal"--see below--or just humming a melody to each other.

This masterpiece is rarely exhibited in the United States. When "A Summer Night" debuted at Reichard's Gallery in New York in 1891, it was generally well received, but did evoke some mixed response. It did not immediately find a buyer. In December 1891 Homer offered it to Potter Palmer, Chicago's collector of French impressionist pictures, calling it "Buffalo Girls." This was apparently in reference to the popular song "Buffalo Gal", which included the line "Buffalo Gal won't you come out tonight and dance by the light of the moon?" Potter declined the offer and Homer lent the picture to the Cumberland Club in Portland, Maine where it remained for nine years, the rest of the decade.

In 1900, Homer sent "A Summer Night, Maine Coast" to Exposition Universelle in Paris, where it received a gold medal. The French government purchased the picture for the Louvre Museum. It was one of the earliest acquisitions of a work by Homer by any museum and one of the rare American paintings to be acquired by the Louvre (later transferred to Musee d'Orsay).