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Although the drawings did not get much attention at the time, they mark Homer's expanding skills from illustrator to painter. Like with his urban scenes, Homer also illustrated women during wartime, and showed the effects of the war on the home front. The war work was dangerous and exhausting. Back at his studio, Homer would regain his strength and re-focus his artistic vision. He set to work on a series of war-related paintings based on his sketches, among them Sharpshooter on Picket Duty (1862), Home, Sweet Home (1863), and Prisoners from the Front (1866). He exhibited paintings of these subjects every year at the National Academy of Design from 1863 to 1866. Home, Sweet Home was shown at the National Academy to particular critical acclaim; it was quickly sold and the artist was consequently elected an Associate Academician, then a full Academician in 1865. During this time, he also continued to sell his illustrations to periodicals such as Our Young Folks and Frank Leslie's Chimney Corner.
Homer was also interested in postwar subject matter that conveyed the silent tension between two communities seeking to understand their future. His oil painting A Visit from the Old Mistress (1876) shows an encounter between a group of four freed slaves and their former mistress. The formal equivalence between the standing figures suggests the balance that the nation hoped to find in the difficult years of Reconstruction. Homer composed this painting from sketches he had made while traveling through Virginia.
Largely self-taught, Homer began his career working as a commercial illustrator. He subsequently took up oil painting and produced major studio works characterized by the weight and density he exploited from the medium. He also worked extensively in watercolor, creating a fluid and prolific oeuvre, primarily chronicling his working vacations.
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