The Herring Net

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Winslow Homer
American, 1836-1910

The Herring Net, 1885

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

In 1883 Winslow Homer moved to the small coastal village of Prout’s Neck, Maine, where he created a series of paintings of the sea unparalleled in American art. Long inspired by the subject, Homer had spent summers visiting New England fishing villages during the 1870s, and in 1881–82, he made a trip to a fishing community in Cullercoats, England, that fundamentally changed his work and his life. The paintings he created after 1882 focused almost exclusively on humankind’s age-old contest with nature. HereThe Herring Net Homer depicted the heroic efforts of fishermen at their daily work, hauling in an abundant catch of herring. In a small dory, two figures loom large against the mist on the horizon, through which the sails of the mother schooners are dimly visible. While one fisherman hauls in the netted and glistening herring, the other unloads the catch. Utilizing the teamwork so necessary for survival, both strive to steady the precarious boat as it rides the incoming swells. Homer’s isolation of these two figures underscores the monumentality of their task: the elemental struggle against a sea that both nurtures and deprives.

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2013, p. 41.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

New York, National Academy of Design," Autumn Exhibition," November 23-December 19, 1885, no. 395.

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Winslow Homer," February 6-March 19, 1911, no. 6, as "Banks Fishermen."

Art Institute of Chicago, A Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, June 1-Nov. 1, 1933, cat. 460.

New York, Knoedler Galleries, "To Honor Henry McBride, An Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Water Colours," November 29-December 17, 1949, no. 1 as "Banks Fishermena or The Herring Net."

Milwaukee, Marquette University, "Festival of the American Arts," April 22-May 3, 1956, no. 38.

Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, Winslow Homer, Oct. 15, 1995-Jan. 28, 1996; traveled to Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Feb.21-May 26, 1996, New York City, Metropolitan Museum of Art, June 17-Sept. 22, 1996.

Publication History

“Fine Arts: The Autumn Academy,” Nation 41 (Dec. 17, 1885), pp. 516-17.

W.A. Coffin, “A Painter of the Sea,” Century Magazine (Sept. 1899).

R. Hitchcock, The Art of the World: The World’s Columbian Exposition (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1895) Section 4, ill. p. 143.

J.W. Young, “The Art of Winslow Homer,” Fine Arts Journal 19 (Feb. 1908), p. 47.

“Annual Carnegie Exhibit,” American Art News 6 (May 9, 1908), p. 4, referred to as Bank Fisherman.

William Howe Downes, The Life and Works of Winslow Homer (Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1911), p. 134 (ill.).

A. Hoeber, “Winslow Homer: A Painter of the Sea,” World’s Work (Feb. 1911).

A.E. Ga.llatin, “Winslow Homer Memorial Exhibition,” Art and Progress (Apr. 1911).

Keyon Cox, Winslow Homer (New York, Privately printed by Frederic Fairchild Sherman, 1914), p. 34. (ill.)

“Knoedler Firm Buys 21 Winslow Homers,” New York Herald (Nov. 15, 1915).

Nathaniel Pousette-Dart, comp. Winslow Homer (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1923), ill.

“Summer Loan Exhibitions,” Bulletin of The Art Institute of Chicago 17 (Sept. 19, 1923), ill. p. 56.

Forbes Watson, “In the Galleries,” Arts 16 (May 1930), pp. 630-34 (ill.).

Creative Art 6 (June 1930), supplement, ill. p. 141.

C. Borrows, “Letter From New York,” Apollo 12 (July 1930), p. 46 (ill.).

W.H. Downes, “American Painters of the Sea,” American Magazine of Art 23 (Nov. 1931), pp. 360-74.

G. Dubois, “Two Exhibitions by Winslow Homer,” Magazine of Art (Jan. 1932).

Theodore Bolton, “The Art of Winslow Homer: An Estimate in 1932,” Fine Arts 18 (Feb. 1932), pp. 23-28.

Art Digest 7 (May 15, 1933), p. 29 (ill.).

H. Clifford, “Winslow Homer: Oils, Watercolors and Drawings in a Centenary Exhibition Current in Philadelphia,” Art News 34 (May 9, 1936), p. 6 (ill.).

Bulletin of The Art Institute of Chicago 32 (Jan. 19, 1938), p. 5 (ill.).

Kate Brewster, “The Ryerson Gift to The Art Institute of Chicago,” Magazine of Art 31 (Feb. 1938), pp. 94-100 (ill.).

Art Quarterly 1, 2 (Spring 1938), p. 147 (ill.).

Thomas Craven, Treasury of Art Masterpieces from the Renaissance to the Present Day (Simon and Schuster, 1939), p. 463, no. 112.

Donald Jenks, Paintings on Parade, A Pictorial Handbook of World’s Masterpieces (Boston: Hale, Cushman Flint, 1939).

Art Digest 13 (Mar. 15, 1939), p. 26 (ill.)

Forbes Watson, Winslow Homer (Crown Publishers, 1942), ill.

J. Walker and J. Magill, Great American Painting from Smibert to Bellows, 1729-1924 (Oxford University Press, 1943), p. 61 (ill.).

Lloyd Goodrich, Winslow Homer (Whitney Museum of American Art/ The MacMillan Company, 1944), ino. 28.

Lloyd Goodrich, “The Young Winslow Homer,” Magazine of Art (Feb. 1944).

National Geographic Magazine (Feb. 1951), p. 211 (ill.).

Lloyd Goodrich, Winslow Homer (New York, Braziller, 1959).

Jean Gould, Winslow Homer: A Portrait (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1962).

Albert Ten Eyck Gardner, Winslow Homer, American Artists: His World and His Work (New York, Clarkson N. Potter,1961), p. 188 (ill.).

H. Ingalls, “Elements in the Development of Winslow Homer,” Art Journal 24 (Fall 1964), pp. 18-22.

Philip C. Beam, Winslow Homer at Prout’s Neck (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967), p. 67 (ill.).

John Wilmerding, A History of Marine Painting (Peabody Museum of Salem, 1968).

Barbara Novak, American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism and the American Experience (Praeger, 1969).

John Shapely, ed, The Index of Twentieth Century Artists, 4 (New York, College Art Association ) vol. 1, 1934; reprint ed., (New York, Arno Press, 1970), pp. 24-37, 56-60.

Vincent Price, "The Vincent Price Treasury of American Art," Country Beautiful (1972), p. 139 (ill.).

John Wilmerding, Winslow Homer (Praeger, 1972), p. 147 (ill.).

David A. Hanks, “American Paintings at The Art Institute,” Antiques 104 (Nov. 1973), pp. 873-905 (ill.).

C. Montgomery, “The Fish as a Symbol,” Studio International 187 (May 1974), pp. 200-26 (ill.).

Lois Fink and Joshua Taylor, The Academic Tradition in American Art, National Collection of Fine Arts (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975).

M. Brown, American Art to 1900 (Abrams, 1977).

Milo Naeve, “The Edwardian Era and Patrons of American Art at The Art Institute of Chicago: The Birth of a Tradition,” America’s International Exposition of Fine Arts and Antiques (Lakeside Group, 1988), p. 23, fig. 4.

Art Institute of Chicago, Master Paintings in The Art Institute of Chicago (Little, Brown, and Company,1988), p. 89 (ill.).

Paul Raymond Provost, “Winslow Homer’s The Fog Warning: The Fisherman as Heroic Character,” American Journal 22, 1 (Kennedy Galleries, 1990), p. 21-27, fig. 2.

Judith A. Barter et al., American Arts at The Art Institute of Chicago: From Colonial Times to World War I (Art Institute of Chicago, 1998).

C. Hathaway, “Drawings by Winslow Homer in The Museum’s Collections,” Chronicle of the Museum of Decorative Arts of the Copper Hewitt (no date).

Thomas Andrew Denenberg et al., "Wyeth Vertigo" (Shelburne Museum/University Press of New England, 2013).

Ownership History

Charles W. Gould, New York, by 1908 to 1915; M. Knoedler and Company, New York, 1915; Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson, Chicago, 1915; given to The Art Institute of Chicago, 1937.