Student Activity

Winslow Homer: The Veteran in a New Field

The Painting | Winslow Homer | Art Teacher Guide | History/Social Studies | Language Arts | Featured Lessons | Featured Websites | About the Image

The aftermath of the Civil War was a period of consolidation, adjustment, and renewal. Relief that the conflict had ended was juxtaposed with uncertainty about the nation’s future—particularly in the wake of President’s Lincoln’s assassination, which occurred five days after the surrender of Lee at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. In The Veteran in a New Field, painted only a few months after these momentous events, the artist Winslow Homer evoked the complex mood of the United States as it embarked on reunification.

Homer, who covered the war as an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly, had been an intimate observer of his country’s ordeal, and his interpretation of the new, post-bellum America is eloquent in its simplicity.

The Painting

In this painting, the veteran, Union jacket discarded in the midday heat, his back to the viewer, is anonymous. Although the painting appears factual (the 1865 grain crop was unusually bountiful), Homer also draws meaning from the ancient theme of the harvester, who signifies both abundance and mortality as the summer season gives up its fruits. This paradoxical interpretation would have been readily understood by Homer’s contemporaries: Many battles were fought in fields like the one the veteran now reaps; and the type of scythe he handles (the painted-out blades are faintly discernable) has been transformed into the old-fashioned, one-bladed instrument carried by the Grim Reaper.

Homer’s painting, as well as the other works found in the Picturing America portfolio was chosen for the story it tells about the history of America. EDSITEment is offering an expanded group of Web links for each of the forty large-scale illustrations, arranged by subject. It is hoped that these will help teachers expand their ability to use Picturing America in the classroom. A taste of these digital resources, which will be available each month as the lesson plans that accompany each illustration appear, is previewed here for Homer’s The Veteran in a New Field. We hope that teachers will be inspired to add to this list of links—and in the process find even more great works of American art to incorporate into their curricula.

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Winslow Homer


  • Winslow Homer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
    Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site has information on Homer and enlargeable images of eleven of his paintings, including The Veteran in a New Field.
  • National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Winslow Homer page
    Web site companion to an exhibit on Winslow Homer, has information about Homer, a video clip on his early career, a chronology of his career, slideshow of his work, and information on selected images. The Veteran in a New Field is not included.
  • Winslow Homer Watercolors —A Survey of Themes and Styles
    National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Web site tour, shows fifteen Homer watercolors with explanatory information.
  • Civil War @ the Smithsonian
    Smithsonian Institution Web site, has a page about Homer’s role in the Civil War as well as other major topics of discussion about the Civil War and a clickable image gallery with short essays on each image.
  • Americans in Paris, 1860-1900
    Metropolitan Museum of Art, exhibition, Americans in Paris, 1860–1900, has a companion Web site on American artists who studied, painted, and competed with their fellow artists in Paris when that city was the art capital of the world. Among the artists discussed are Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, Whistler, Eakins, and Childe Hassam.
  • NGA Kids Inside Scoop
    National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Web site, contains information on Winslow Homer and his watercolor paintings.
  • Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins (activities)
    National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., has a gallery guide on Winslow Homer and Eakins, with information on works by Homer and Eakins in the National Gallery.

Art (Teachers Guide, Activities)

  • A Guide to Building Visual Arts Lessons
    Getty Museum Education department Web site, Teachers’ Programs and Resources, is designed for K–12 teachers who wish to introduce art and art history into their classrooms. The site uses works from the museum’s collection along with pages A Grade-by-Grade Guide, The Elements of Art (teaching the formal components of art such as line and color), and a PDF file, Lesson Template. Also included are pages for California State Content Standards and National Standards in the Visual Arts. Lesson plans for Grades 1–2 and 9–12 use the photography of Dorothea Lange.

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  • Images at War
    National Endowment for the Humanities, EDSITEment, Images at War, for Grades 9–12, examines the role photography played in the Civil War and World War II.

Art/History/Literature (Teacher’s Guide)

  • The National Humanities Center Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
    The National Humanities Web site, has a hyperlink to its section, The Gilded and the Gritty: America 1870–1912, with a page, Civil War Memory and American Nostalgia, featuring Homer’s The Veteran in a New Field with links to works of late nineteenth-century literature. This page also features a short discussion of Thomas Cole’s Oxbow and its place in the changing concept of America.
  • The Learning Page
    Library of Congress Web site, The Learning Page, has teacher resource links “U.S. History,” “Critical Thinking,” and “Arts & Humanities” on its page, Collection Connections: Civil War Photographs.
  • The Learning Page
    Library of Congress Web site, The Learning Page, The Matthew Brady Bunch: Civil War Newspapers, has teacher materials and a lesson plan grouped centered on journalism and Civil War photography. Students are asked to become reporters and write a newspaper article based on the photos in the American Memory collection.

History/Social Studies

History/Language Arts/Literature/Social Studies (Teachers’ Guide)

History/Music/Social Studies

  • Band Music from the Civil War Era
    Library of Congress Web site, American Memory, has a page which contains links to background information, music files, and period photographs.

Language Arts/Literature

  • Walt Whitman Archive
    NEH funded Walt Whitman Archive has searchable database of Whitman’s complete poems including President Lincoln’s Burial Hymn which includes the poems “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d,” “O Captain! My Captain!” “Hush’d be the Camps To-day,” and “This Dust was Once the Man.

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Featured Lessons

Featured Web Sites

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Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910), The Veteran in a New Field, 1865. Oil on canvas. 24 1/8 x 38 1/8 in. x 61.3 x 96.8 cm.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876 – 1967), 1967 (67.187.131). Image © 1995 The Metropolitan Museum of Art.