The Graduate Center - City University of New York

“Among the Studios,” Our Young Folks (1866)

After the Civil War, as Winslow Homer began to establish his reputation as a painter, the children’s magazine Our Young Folks published this brief description of his studio in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

Creator: Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Date: July, 1866

Publisher: Our Young Folks

Source: American Social History Project

The University is one of those buildings that have lost their enthusiasm. It is dingy and despondent, and doesn’t care. It lifts its machicolated turrets of whitey-brown marble above the tree-tops of Washington Parade-Ground with an air of forlorn indifference. Summer or winter, fog, snow, or sunshine,--they are all one to this dreary old pile. It ought to be a cheerful place, just as some morose people ought to be light-hearted, having everything to render them so. The edifice faces a beautiful park, full of fine old trees, and enlivened by one coffee-colored squirrel, who generously makes himself visible for nearly half an hour once every summer. As we write, his advent is anxiously expected, the fountain is singing a silvery prelude, and the blossoms are flaunting themselves under the very nose, if we may say it, of the University. But it refuses to be merry, looming up there stiff and repellent, with the soft spring gales fanning its weather-beaten turrets--an architectural example of ingratitude.

Mr. Longfellow says that

         “All houses wherein men have lived and died

         Are haunted houses.”

In one of those same turrets, many years ago, a young artist grew weary of this life. Perhaps his melancholy spirit still pervades the dusty chambers, goes wearily up and down the badly lighted staircases, as he used to do in the flesh. If so, that is what chills us as we pass through the long, uncarpeted halls leading to the little nookery tenanted by Mr. Winslow Homer.

The reader should understand that the University is not, like the Tenth Street Studio Building, monopolized by artists. The ground-floor is used for a variety of purposes. We have an ill-defined idea that there is a classical school located somewhere on the premises, for we have now and the met files of spectral little boys, with tattered Latin grammars under their arms, gliding stealthily out of the somber doorway and disappearing in the sunshine. Several Theological and scientific societies have their meetings here, and a literary club sometimes holds forth up stairs in a spacious lecture-room. Excepting the studios there is little to interest us, unless it be the locked apartment in which a whimsical virtuoso has stored a great quantity of curiosities, which he brought from Europe, years ago, and has since left to the mercy of the rats and moths. This mysterious room is turned to a very good dramatic account by the late Theodore Winthrop, in his romance of “Cecil Dreeme.”

It had taken us some time to reach Mr. Homer’s atelier, for it is on the third or fourth floor. But the half-finished picture on his easel, the two or three crayon sketches on the walls, (military subjects,) and the splendid view from his one window, cause us to forget that last long flight of stairs.

The studio itself does not demand particular notice. It is remarkable for nothing but its contracted dimensions: it seems altogether too small for a man to have a large idea in. If Mr. Homer were to paint a big battle-piece, he would be in as awkward a predicament as was the amiable Dr. Primrose, when he had the portraits of all his family painted on one canvas. “The picture,” says the food old Vicar of Wakefield, “instead of gratifying our vanity, as we hoped, leaned, in a mortifying manner, against the kitchen-wall, where the canvas was stretched and painted, much to large to got through any of the doors.