The Herring Net
Oil on canvas
76.5 x 122.9 cm (30 1/8 x 48 3/8 in.)
Signed, lower right: "Homer 85"
Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection, 1937.1039
Toward the end of his career, when he painted The Herring Net, Winslow Homer was interested in exploring the relationship between man and nature. Here, two anonymous fisherman struggle to pull a net of herring into their small boat as it is tossed by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. With their obscured facial features and large hats, the fishermen do not represent specific individuals but humanity in general. Homer completed The Herring Net following an 1881 trip to the village of Tynemouth, England, on the North Sea, where he observed the harsh lives of fishermen and their wives.
Homer's style in this painting represents a dramatic change from his earlier works such as Croquet Scene. No longer is nature peaceful and sunny; instead it is dark and tumultuous. In place of playful camaraderie, there is a feeling of isolation as the fishermen's boat is far away from the schooners in the background. Homer indicated the men’s physical exertion by placing the young boy's body over the side of the boat to counterbalance the weight of the fish being pulled up in the net.
Homer moved from New York to Prout's Neck, on the coast of Maine, in 1884. He claimed to have witnessed the harvesting of a large school of herring that year, sketching the fishermen from a boat that he hired. This attention to contemporary life is a hallmark of Homer's work, yet here a contemporary event becomes a metaphor for the human struggle with nature.
Oil on canvas
40.3 x 66.2 cm (15 7/8 x 26 1/16 in.)
Signed, lower right: "WINSLOW HOMER/-66-"
Friends of American Art Collection; Goodman Fund, 1942.35
Homer, who worked as a reporter/illustrator during the Civil War, also painted themes of upper-class leisure in post-Civil War America. This genre painting depicts three women and a man playing croquet on a lawn probably in New York's Central Park. Croquet, recently introduced in the United States, was socially acceptable for women and men to play together during the conservative postwar era. Homer's attention to the effects of open-air sunlight and his decision to depict leisure activities of the fashionable middle-class recall the subjects of French Impressionism, which he would have seen during a trip to Paris in 1866–67.