Oct 16, 2009
The boy in Winslow Homer's "The Hound and the Hunter" never saw the movie "Bambi," of course, so his relationship to forest and fauna was nothing like that of my generation.. This boy didn't grow up with that single gunshot trumping all other cinematic memories: What just happened? The hunters killed Bambi's mother? His mother?
Homer's boy, unburdened with Disney-fication, just went hunting. That's what you could do this time of year if you were a fortunate American boy. His dog hounded the deer into the water, forcing it to swim rather than run. Deer swim slowly enough that the boy was able to pick it off with the gun that is now in the bottom of the boat. He'll soon have the deer tied up, ready to drag home. Problem is: the dog is now swimming straight for the boat, and if it jumps in, they'll capsize. What should the boy do? What happens next?
Homer was particularly proud of this painting; he felt he got all the details just right--for example, the transition between the boy's pale forearms and suntanned wrists. But even back then in the late 19th century, deer hunting was becoming culturally problematic among a portion of the population; when this painting was first displayed, there were complaints that the deer was still alive, that the boy was trying to drown it. This interpretation is obviously wrong--a desperate deer, thrashing in the water, would swamp the boat, if the boy could hold it at all. No, the deer is not struggling, and the boy's attention has shifted to the dog.
To be continued, sort of.