Introduction: Homer's The Herring Net
An introduction to Homer's dramatic painting of two fishermen struggling to haul their catch into a dory during a storm at sea.
Book: Impressionism and Post-Impressionism
Art Institute of Chicago. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in The Art Institute of Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, p. 88.
In the summer of 1883, Winslow Homer moved to Prout’s Neck, a secluded fishing village on the coast of Maine, where he resided for the remainder of his life. Essentially a rocky promontory jutting out into the Atlantic, Prout’s Neck features looming cliffs that offer spectacular views of the ocean. There, in a bleak, rugged setting where humanity battled with an adversarial sea for its livelihood, Homer found the epic inspiration for his mature marine paintings, such as The Herring Net.
Homer first painted seacoast life in 1873 and 1880 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and then in 1881–82 in Cullercoats, on the Northumberland shore of England. The Herring Net strikes a new, heroicizing note in this ongoing series of works based on firsthand observation. An unusually large school of herring appeared off the shore at Prout’s Neck in the fall of 1884; hiring a local boy to man his rowboat, Homer went out with the fishing fleet so that he could make preliminary sketches of the action. Once back in the studio, Homer depicted the figures of the fishermen—clad in cumbersome gear, struggling to haul their catch into a wave-tossed dory—with sculptural monumentality. His dark palette, dominated by the sheen of steely gray, conveys the threat of a harsh and unpredictable environment. But the strong structure of the composition, with its horizontal bands of sky and water bolstering the fishermen’s stark silhouettes, establishes a formal stability. Recording his subjects’ alert response to the elements, Homer conveyed in The Herring Net the resilience and courage that they needed to ply their trade.