The horrific experience of the Civil War inspired a generation of Americans to seek solace and escape in fantasies of an ever-happy childhood. More deeply than any other artist, Winslow Homer understood this need for sweet nostalgia in postwar society. His paintings of the 1870s conjure an almost mythical American childhood: sailing boats in a stiff breeze, reading stories in the cool grass, and playing games outside a one-room school house. Homer's world seems forever summer. Weaning the Calf is part of this charmed world. It was painted the same year Mark Twain completed Tom Sawyer, and both works share a loving and humorous recollection of youth, when the only struggles were with river pirates - or an unruly calf.
Recently it has been suggested that Homer intended Weaning the Calf as a companion to Snap the Whip, one of the artist's best-known pictures. Similar in size and composition, the two paintings make convincing complements: the work of weaning the calf contrasting with the play of an after-school game.