NEW HAVEN, CT.- The Yale University Art Gallery
has reframed Old Mill (The Morning Bell) by Winslow Homer (1836-1910). Oil on canvas, dated 1871, 24 x 38 1/8. The painting was in a simple fluted cove style frame not original to the work. The new period frame selected for the painting is an American period frame of the 1870s, with successive rows of ornament that lead the eye into the composition, enhancing the sense of perspective.
The social role of women was profoundly changed by the Civil War, and economic necessity forced many to leave their homes to work in factories. Homer shows several of these young women, lunch pails in hand, on their way to work in a New England mill, possibly in Lowell, Massachusetts. While the focus of the painting is on the young women, underlying the whole scene is the uneasy sense of a young nation in transition between an agricultural and an industrial society. To earn extra money, many school teachers came from the city to work in factories during the summer months. The sense of shared community evoked by the circle of three rural women in aprons and earth-colored, homespun dresses chatting at the right is in striking contrast to the solitary central figure, inappropriately dressed for factory work in a straw bonnet and scarlet jacket. While the country women seem comfortably rooted in the fertile landscape, she hesitatingly turns from the ramp onto the makeshift bridge over a stagnant stream. Situated at the crossroads in the painting, she may be seen as symbolically poised between the rural values of the past and the increasingly isolated and depersonalized culture of American life after the Civil War.