Winslow Homer
School Time, c. 1874
Oil on canvas
12 1/2 x 19 1/4 in. (31.75 x 48.9 cm)
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon 2014.18.19
Image Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington


Painted in the years following the Civil War, this scene of children outside a rural one-room schoolhouse seems to capture the nation’s shared yearning for a simpler, more innocent time, as well as its brighter hope for the next generation. Childhood was a common post-war subject for Winslow Homer and many of his literary contemporaries, and the artist frequently incorporated images of little red schoolhouses into his work. Indeed, the artist seems to give explicit expression to his own personal nostalgia through the inclusion of a figure inscribing the initials “W.H.” on the schoolhouse wall.
Traditional one-room schools, such as this one – in which students of all ages and abilities learned together, often tutoring each other under the direction of a single teacher – would eventually wane as the nation transitioned to a more modern educational system. But, the little red schoolhouse has lived on as a national icon, symbolizing the goodness of childhood and the simplicity of a bygone era.
Select facts derived from the collection object page: The Red Schoolhouse; Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr. and Franklin Kelly, Winslow Homer. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art (Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 1995).


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