“A Littoral Tile” is one of seven known single tiles produced by Winslow Homer. Homer was a founding member of the Tile Club, one of several private men’s clubs that formed after the end of the Civil War. Post-Civil War America witnessed a rise in prosperity, creating both the overcrowded industrialized city, epitomized by New York, and growing leisure time for an ever-increasing populace. Both factors gave rise to private societies that provided men an escape from their routine environment. One of the most endearing, especially in artistic circles, was the Tile Club.1

Details regarding the formation, activities, and raison d’etre of the Tile Club are veiled in obscurity, calculated by its members to create an air of exclusivity and attract attention. Articles placed in the press by its members, littered with inside jokes and innuendo, provide the only source to derive what little is known about the club. Established in the fall of 1877 by a group of young artists and writers living in New York City, the Tile Club met informally in member’s studios. They worked outdoors during the summer months, painting premade tiles that were cream white and measured 8 x 8 inches (all known examples are stamped either Josiah Wedgwood or Minton Stoke-on-Trent). To insure exclusivity, membership was limited to twelve, and to present a “studiously slangy and Bohemian air,” each member was assigned a humorous nickname: Homer was the Obtuse Bard; William Merritt Chase, Briareus; Francis Davis Millet, Bulgarian; Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Saint; John Twachtman, Pie; Elihu Vedder, Pagan; J. Alden Weir, Cadmium; and Stanford White, Beaver. These club names were always used in their publications to stress the select nature of the group, as well as to create a sense of intrigue and inject an element of humor.2

A Scribner’s article of 1879, discussing the antics of the Tile Club, published the Detroit tile. In addition to “A Littoral Tile,” Homer produced a plaque and two fireplace surrounds. He is the only member known to have produced surrounds, one in 1878 and the other in 1880, which was destined for his brother’s home. Homer’s long and prolific career can be divided into three phases, the early years dominated by images of the Civil War, the mid-period, where he was consumed by genre subjects depicting the simpler side of life, and the final years represented through his canvases based on his Prout’s Neck, Maine, observations. This tile falls into his middle period, but in many ways prefigures Homer’s later seascapes. The tile, depicting a man and woman picnicking on the beach, is in keeping with his genre subjects of the 1870s, but the overall composition of the sky and the relationship to the sea foretell Homer’s heroic canvases (e.g., Eight Bells, Addison Gallery of Art, Andover, Mass.) over the next two decades. James W. Tottis

Adapted from Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 81, nos. 1­–2 (2007): 22–23.

Notes
1. R. G. Pisano, The Tile Club and the Aesthetic Movement in America (New York, 1999).
2. Ibid.
Artist Winslow Homer, American, 1836-1910
Title
  • A Littoral Tile
Date 1878
Medium oil on ceramic
Dimensions Unframed: 8 × 8 inches (20.3 × 20.3 cm)
Framed: 15 1/2 × 15 1/2 × 1 1/4 inches (39.4 × 39.4 × 3.2 cm)
Credit Line Museum Purchase, Dexter M. Ferry, Jr. Fund, Merrill Fund and partial gift from Barbara and Martha Fleischman
Accession Number 2003.153
Department American Art before 1950
On View American W290, Level 2 (see map)
Signed Signed and dated, lower right corner: HOMER 78
2003-present purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA) and partial gift
"American Decorative Arts Acquisitions 1985-2005." Bulletin of the DIA 81, 1-2 (2007): pp. 22-23.