Winslow Homer was born into an old New England family. When he was six, the family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, then a rural village, where he enjoyed a happy country childhood. His artistic inclinations were encouraged by his mother, an amateur painter. When he was 19, he was apprenticed to the lithographic firm of John Bufford in Boston. At first most of his work involved copying the designs of other artists, but within a few years he was submitting his own drawings for publication in such periodicals as Ballou’s Pictorial and Harper’s Weekly. In 1859 Homer moved from Boston to New York City to begin a career as a freelance illustrator. The following year he exhibited his first paintings at the National Academy of Design.
With the outbreak of the American Civil War, Homer made drawings at the front for Harper’s, but, unlike most artist-correspondents, he dealt more often with views of everyday camp life than with scenes of battle. As the war dragged on, he concentrated increasingly on painting. In 1865 he was elected to the National Academy of Design. Admirably capturing the dominant national mood of reconciliation, his Prisoners from the Front (1866) was warmly received when exhibited at the academy shortly after the war ended.