ACT Reading Jun. 2015 73C - Passage III

Questions 21-30 are based on the following passage.

HUMANITIES: This passage is adapted from the article "Winslow Homer: His Melancholy Truth" by John A. Parks (©2006 by VNU Business Media).

The images in the paintings of Winslow Homer
epitomize a peculiarly American 19th-century world.
Through Homer's eyes, it is a world in which people
live in close contact with nature and natural forces, a
5 world where landscape and ocean are viewed not as a
paradise but as powers and presences that can be
enjoyed and whose threats can sometimes be overcome.
And, particularly in his later paintings, it is a world
imbued with a stark and melancholy atmosphere.

10 In 1867, two of Homer's canvases were chosen to
hang at the Great Exposition in Paris. The artist spent
10 months in the city, which later proved to have a pro­-
found effect on his art. A large display of Japanese
prints was exhibited in the same building as his own
15 paintings, and the process of simplification that it
revealed and the wealth of pictorial invention it pro­-
vided made a deep impression on the artist. The influ­-
ence of Japanese art on Homer's painting was
immediately apparent upon his return to the United
20 States. The weakness of earlier compositions is
replaced by a boldness and lucidity in which simple
shapes are massed into powerful designs.

Although Homer's work of the 1870s gained
strength, the artist continued to paint his genre subjects:
25 tourist scenes, schoolchildren, and farm life. It wasn't
until 1881, however, that he found the subject matter
that would inspire him most. In that year, for reasons
unknown, Homer went to England, where he elected to
spend the summer at the town of Tynemouth on the
30 coast of the North Sea. It is possible that he was search­-
ing for a town filled with the type of tourists and
bathers that made his paintings of the Jersey shore suc­-
cessful back home. But Tynemouth was also a commu­-
nity of fishermen who wrested their livelihood from the
35 dangerous and unpredictable waters of the North Sea.
Moreover, the light and weather in that part of the
world, so much farther north than Atlantic City, is
much gloomier and more dramatic than that of the
Jersey coast. It was there that Homer became enthralled
40 by the dramas of the people who make their living from
the ocean: the fishermen's wives staring out to sea as
they wait for their men, the launch of the lifeboat to
rescue sailors from a foundering ship, the agonizingly
fragile fishing boats being tossed on angry waves. Here
45 at last was a subject matter that matched the artist's
deepest feelings. The dynamic and dangerous relation­-
ship between human activity and natural forces exposed
in this setting would occupy Homer for many years to
come. On his return to America he elected to leave New
50 York and relocate to the rural town of Prouts Neck,
Maine.

The legend of Winslow Homer is that he left New
York civilization to become a recluse on the coast of
Maine for the last 25 years of his life. In reality, the
55 property at Prouts Neck-which included a large, ram­-
bling hotel building-was purchased by his brother
Charles for the whole extended Homer family. The
artist also built a studio with an ocean view just yards
away from the family house so throughout the summers
60 he could enjoy the cpmpany of his father, his brothers
and their wives, as well as the year-round guests of the
many local people whose friendship he valued. Homer
continued to travel frequently, spending parts of the
winter in the Caribbean. But the artist always lived
65 alone, and when he was working, which was the large
part of most of his days, he could be extremely short­-
tempered when interrupted.

The sea outside his window now inspired the artist
to create what came to be known as his greatest paint-
70 ings. The Maine coast is extremely rocky and prone to
monstrous gales that-at their most powerful-can
whip up the waves to 40 or 50 feet. Screaming winds
can rip across the breakers, creating long horizontal
trails of spray. Homer rendered this sea with all the
75 understanding of a painter who knows to simplify and
synthesize. In paintings such as Eastern Point and
Cannon Rock the construction of the water has been
reorganized into clear graphic shapes and strong direc­-
tional lines that echo the Japanese printmaking that had
80 such a lasting effect on his work. The rocks in the
paintings are massed into powerful, almost flat, designs
and the brushing has become energetic, as though feed­-
ing from the physical strength of the ocean. These
paintings take on an abstract grandeur that has justly
85 made them famous. They remain, however, haunting
evocations of the eternal power of the ocean.

 
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