Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
Currently on view
Oil on canvas
38 x 68 1/2 in. (96.5 x 174.0 cm.)
Joseph E. Temple Fund
After 1890, Homer frequently depicted "naturalist" subjects - hunting and fishing in the Adirondacks and coastal or marine views at Prout's Neck, Maine. Critics have interpreted these works as potent expressions of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, an idea of great currency in the late nineteenth century. "Fox Hunt" was Homer's largest painting to date, and of a size appropriate for the depiction of survival and its casualties. He dramatized the brutal realities of winter on the Maine coast by showing a fox desperately bounding through deep snow in an attempt to flee a flock of half-starved crows. The birds descend ominously with outstretched wings, forming a dark hovering mass above the struggling fox.
That viewers witness the scene from the fox's vantage point heighten's the sense of tension and empathy. Homer's carefully designed composition, indebted to his study of Japanese woodblock prints, supports the unfolding drama. The fox's red silhouette is splashed across a field of oppressive snow; we sense that he is cornered, trapped within the flattened white plane while the aggressive birds break its edges on descent. This striking reversal of the natural order, in which the bird becomes predator and the fox prey, has become one of the artist's most haunting and successful images. The Pennsylvania Academy purchased "Fox Hunt" in 1893, the first of Homer's works to enter a public collection.