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"A Youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice, / A banner with the strange device, Excelsior"

American Art

Homer was often commissioned to illustrate the work of such respected contemporary authors as Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, and John Greenleaf Whittier. Their poems frequently appeared in gift books, which were usually decorative, deluxe editions of poetry or a single poem that were published each autumn for the Christmas season. The four illustrations for Excelsior on view here were also published the same year as Homer’s contribution for the gift book Christmastide. The highly symbolic poem about the tragic end of youthful genius driven by the irresistible motive to excel did not translate well into visual form and these images lack the naturalism that infuses most of Homer’s art. Here the “strange” youth of the poem sets out on his solitary Alpine climb to the heights of achievement.
MEDIUM Wood engraving
DATES 1878
DIMENSIONS Image: 3 1/8 x 3 1/4 in. (7.9 x 8.3 cm) Sheet: 8 1/2 x 6 in. (21.6 x 15.2 cm) Frame: 20 x 15 x 1 1/2 in. (50.8 x 38.1 x 3.8 cm)
COLLECTIONS American Art
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
ACCESSION NUMBER 1998.105.198
CREDIT LINE Gift of Harvey Isbitts
RECORD COMPLETENESS
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