Winslow Homer started his career as a graphic reporter during the American Civil War, before going on to paint scenes of army life and the rural world with the Naturalist precision which then prevailed in American painting. After a stay in Paris, Homer used an Impressionist palette for a while then developed a personal style midway between Realism and Symbolism. Summer Night perfectly expresses this synthesis and may be considered one of the first masterpieces of American art still in search of its identity.
This nocturnal scene by the sea transcends observed reality through a keen sense of poetry and mystery. The light and shade effects blur shapes, while the ghostly silhouettes of two women dance on the shore. Although it may well have been influenced by Courbet's Waves, the lyricism tinged with mysticism expressed by Homer helped develop a feeling for nature that is peculiarly American.