The Veteran in a New Field, 1865. Winslow Homer. Oil on canvas. Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876-1967), 1967.
Completed in 1865, following the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, this deeply symbolic painting embodies the tension between grief and hope after the war. A discarded Union Army jacket and canteen in the lower right corner identify the farmer as a veteran, and the "new field" of the title reminds us of his old one, the battlefield. This return to productive, peaceful pursuits echoes the biblical passage from Isaiah 2:4, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares."
While the bountiful Northern harvest signifies renewal and recovery, the single-bladed scythe evokes the Grim Reaper. Pigment that has become transparent over time reveals that Homer originally painted a more elaborate scythe that he later simplified, intensifying its association with death.