The Portland Museum of Art will buy and preserve the home and studio of Winslow Homer, one of the greatest American artists of the 19th century.

The studio on Scarborough's Prouts Neck is now owned by Homer's great-grandnephew and is estimated to cost between $1 million and $2 million.

A two-year, $12 million fundraising drive will be undertaken to purchase and preserve the studio, a former carriage house with a balcony looking out over the Atlantic Ocean that provided inspiration for Homer's seascapes, museum spokeswoman Kristin Levesque said Thursday.

The money also would be used to fund a public education program and to create a Winslow Homer study center in Portland, and create an endowment for the studio's upkeep, she said.

Chief curator Jessica Nicoll said the studio where Homer worked from 1883 until his death in 1910 is where he transcended the maritime art tradition and produced some of his most notable work.

"The coast of Maine nurtured his creativity and inspired him to grow as an artist and to create an art form that was entirely new," she said. "This is arguably one of the most historic sites in the history of American painting."

Many of Homer's paintings focused on the struggle of man against nature and depicted weather-beaten fishermen and angry, lashing waves. But his artwork covers a full range of moods, said Nicolai Cikovsky Jr., who has written several books on Homer and is a former senior curator of American and British art at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Cikovsky, who once walked the rocks at Prouts Neck, applauded the Portland museum for ensuring that the studio will be preserved.

"There are relatively few artist studio homes that are preserved. And since Homer is probably the greatest American artist of the 19th century, that's a splendid thing to happen," he said.

Significant paintings completed at the studio include "Weatherbeaten" and "Taking an Observation."

Prouts Neck, an area of historic homes that juts into the sea, is 12 miles from the museum.

John Calvin Stevens, the famous Portland architect, transformed the carriage house into a studio suitable for the painter. It featured a large work area on the first floor; at the center was a fireplace and hearth where Homer did his cooking and kept warm on Maine's cold, windy nights, Nicoll said.

The museum has been interested for years in acquiring the property and obtained an option a week ago to buy it from Charles Homer Willauer, the painter's great-grandnephew. The museum has a year to complete the deal. The purchase price was not disclosed.

The purchase will protect the property for future generations at a time when soaring coastal real estate values raise the possibility of someone buying the land and razing the studio, Nicoll said. But what happens to the space once it is preserved is unclear.

The Portland Press Herald, which first reported the deal, said the public will not have ready access to the cottage because of neighborhood rules that restrict the public from visiting the seaside cottage.

Museum officials who held a news conference at the property on Thursday said that they had not sorted out the issue of access. They said only that the 2,000-square-foot home and studio would be used for educational purposes.