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"I Cannot! It Would Be A Sin! A Fearful Sin!"

Winslow Homer

American Art

Regarded as one of the great American Realists of the nineteenth century, Winslow Homer is known primarily for his large body of works in oil and watercolor. However, he also had an early career as a freelance illustrator, making drawings for wood engravings that were reproduced in mass-circulation periodicals such as Harper’s Weekly. In 1998, the Brooklyn Museum received a generous gift of more than 250 wood-engraved illustrations by Homer from Harvey Isbitts.

Homer drew five illustrations for the serialized novel, Beechdale, by Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune (writing under the pseudonym Marion Harland). The novel, featuring the young heroine Jessie, is a romantic tale centering on duty, false love, and moral conflict. Ignorant of Jessie’s conflicted feelings, her dying father insists that she and Roy honor their vows to marry. Here Roy has just restated his love for Jessie and she sinks to the floor, overcome by her feelings about the sinfulness of entering into a loveless marriage. Although the imagery of a woman prostrate at the feet of a man would have been familiar to Homer’s viewers (for it echoes the Victorian iconography attached to the narrative of the “fallen woman”), Homer added a twist here by reversing the placement of the more sympathetic character within the composition.

MEDIUM Wood engraving
DATES 1868
DIMENSIONS Image: 7 x 5 in. (17.8 x 12.7 cm) Sheet: 9 1/4 x 5 7/8 in. (23.5 x 14.9 cm) Frame: 20 x 15 x 1 1/2 in. (50.8 x 38.1 x 3.8 cm)
CREDIT LINE Gift of Harvey Isbitts
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
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