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The Art of JAMA
June 28, 2016

The Bright SideWinslow Homer

Author Affiliations

Copyright 2016 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA. 2016;315(24):2650-2651. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.14333

The initial sketch for The Bright Side, a painting by the American artist Winslow Homer (1836-1910), was made while Homer was attached to the Union Army as an artist-correspondent during the US Civil War. In this image, four weary teamsters doze in the morning sun and a fifth looks around to see who might be disturbing his rest. It is likely that these men have been up all night driving teams of mules pulling wagons loaded with provisions and equipment. Many Union Army teamsters were free blacks from northern states or former slaves from the South who had escaped through Union lines to join the war effort. Those who qualified to drive the mule teams were expected to work long hours in all weathers. The wagons would kick up dust in drought conditions and bog down in the rain. The teamsters slept whenever they could, because at a moment’s notice they might be called on to pack up the army’s gear and move out again. The background of this painting, tilted upward to push the teamsters toward the picture plane, is dense with covered wagons and grazing mules. The men in the foreground huddle for warmth against their patched and muddy tent, their hat brims pulled down low to shade their eyes. One teamster, not yet asleep, runs his fingers through the strands of his mule whip. The man looking out of the tent appears to be seeking eye contact, as if the viewer is part of the scene.

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