WILLIAMSTOWN -- In 1915, Robert Sterling Clark would purchase his first works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Winslow Homer, who would become two of his favorite artists. While popular sentiment names Renoir as his favorite artist, Clark collected more works by Homer than any other artist.
"Some would say that Renoir was the Clarks' favorite, but really it was Homer," Richard Rand, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute's curator of paintings and sculpture, said Monday. "We have 32 paintings by Renoir, but we have nearly 250 works -- paintings, watercolors, prints, drawings and wood engravings by Homer. He loved Homer."
The Clark's collection of Homer's works, are the subject of a new exhibition, "Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History," running through Sept. 8. The show, curated by Marc Simpson, associate director of the Williams College graduate program in art history, includes some 60 oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and etchings, along with some 120 rarely seen wood engravings.
In addition, a second summer exhibition, "George Inness: Gifts from Frank and Katherine Martucci," which highlights eight Inness paintings recently donated to the museum, along with its two previous holdings, also runs through Sept. 8.
"It's true there are more Renoir paintings than there are Homer paintings [in the Clark collection], but when you look at the full scope of the collection in general -- [of] Renoir, Clark has the early paintings, very few from the late career and very few in the other media," Simpson said Monday during a press tour of the exhibition, which officially opened Sunday. "But with Homer, he has the full span of his career and all of the media represented. There's something very different about the nature, the ambition and the follow through of that kind of story of one collector's desire and appreciation of one artist. So Homer and Clark are entwined."
The show is divided into three distinct parts, each exploring a different portion of the artist's career.
A room of rarely seen wood etchings explores Homer's early works, which were made during his career as a freelance illustrator for weekly newspapers.The subject matter ranges from depictions of the Civil War to scenes of everyday life.
"This material presents an extraordinary resource for people who are interested in the past; for people who are interested in 19th century American culture and life," Simpson said. "These are just newspaper illustrations that gave the 19th century reader the visual opportunity to understand their world outside their daily lives."
Another room houses Homer's oil paintings, which include his dramatic seascapes, as well as one of the best known Clark collection paintings, "Two Guides," in which Homer depicts two Adirondack guides in the wilderness. Among the offerings are a rare glimpse of six preparatory drawings of "Undertow."
"These are wonderful because they show Homer's design process and offers insights into how he developed one of his most important figural works," he said, noting the drawings only showed three figures, as opposed to the finished work that has four.
But what makes the Clark's collection unique, Simpson said, is that it contains four seascapes.
"No collector had four seascapes," he said. "That makes this place one of the greatest places to see Homer's work."
In a third section, "Expanding the Market," Simpson explores Homer's foray into other media as a way to enlarge his audience. Among the works are watercolors, heliotypes, photographs and chromolithographs.
The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 225 South Street, is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $15 and free for members, children under 18 and students with a valid ID. For more information, visit www.clarkart.edu or call 413-458-2303.
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email