Charming paintings of a summer childhood in the country were popular in the decades following the Civil War. Having experienced the war firsthand, Winslow Homer understood the attraction and solace of sweet nostalgia. Weaning the Calf was painted in the same year as Mark Twain completed Tom Sawyer, and the novel shares with the painting a loving and humorous memory of youthful days when the only struggle was with river pirates—or an unruly calf.
However, the painting is not so simple to explain. The foreground figure of the Black boy is a surprise. That the boy is clad in tatters and labors mightily while his better-dressed white companions look on has prompted an unsettled debate over the artist’s intentions.
tags: farm, landscape, force, children, animals