Winslow Homer, American Realist painter
Celebrate the Opening of Minnesota’s Fishing Season!
In the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” (aka Minnesota, USA), fresh water fishing is a major industry and recreational sport.
May 15th, 2021 is a BIG DAY in Minnesota! It marks the opening of the state’s fishing season – AND, for once, it does NOT coincide with the celebration of Mother’s Day (May 9, 2021). Historically the two events fall on the same weekend, causing big decisions (and sometimes conflict) for many families as to which event “wins” out. Scenarios: Dad goes fishing; Mom does her own thing. Dad goes fishing; Mom resents it. Fish on Saturday; Mom’s Day on Sunday. Sometimes there is no contest when Mom herself loves to fish and everyone wins! But this year–it is a Win-Win for all!
Winslow Homer: Artist, Fisherman
Winslow Homer (1836-1910), considered by many to be the finest painter America has ever produced, was also an accomplished fisherman. His passion for fishing was more than a recreational diversion; it was a integral part of his personality, his life–and his art.
I’ve always enjoyed Homer’s paintings as, in his style of Realism, they honestly portray real life and real people with an artistic flare, not trying to be photographic. His people come alive and his waves appear to swell and “move” across the canvas.
The broad range of topics and locations related to fishing in Homer’s paintings is fascinating. I’ve included examples of several different themes to show this diversity in his work.
Fishing: An Artist’s Journey thru Life
One gets a glimpse of his journey through life as he shares his personal experiences, as a boy fishing near his Massachusetts home, to his travels as an adult to places such as Key West, Florida. Through his many paintings, one can both experience the chill of fishing in the cold, rough oceanic sea as well as emotionally enjoying the warmth of a lazy-day of fishing on a hot summer’s day. He captures the enjoyment of recreational fishing to the intense toils of the professional fisherman.
Fishing for Work
“The Herring Net” portrays the back-breaking toil of fishermen catching herring from a small dory. As one hauls in netted fish, the other unloads the catch. Keeping the small boat steady in the ocean waves requires working together. Homer paints a hostile sea, emphasizes the hard life of a fisherman, and gives them anonymity by shadowing their faces, making them “every-man.”
“The Herring Net” (1885) oil on canvas, 30.1″ x 48.3″ resides at the Art Institute of Chicago (IL).
Key West Fishing
“Fishing Boats, Key West” portrays a different setting and feeling than those of the cold, rough, north coastal sea.
Homer gives us a glimpse of the warm, shimmering sunlight; the steamy atmosphere; the reflective light off of the water; and the breeze lifting the sailcloth.
Ahhh…. Key West at its best! Having sailed off the coast of Key West, I can attest that this is a perfect rendition!
“Fishing Boats, Key West” (1903) watercolor and graphite, 14″ x 21 3/4″ may be viewed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
“Two Men in a Canoe” – The peaceful serenity of the lake is set by Homer with the misty hills on the background, the reflections of the island and the placid ripples on the calm water. The canoe glides slowly forward as the fisherman on the right casts his silvery fishing line in curls above the boat.
This is a scene that could easily have taken place northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters which border on Canada.
“Two Men in a Canoe” (1895) watercolor, 14″ x 20″ is at home at the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art
Homer’s paintings of trout, salmon, and bass fishing are more than depictions of sporting moments, they are a testament to his love of the sport itself. He traveled great distances to not only find good fishing but also capture the experience with his paint brush in both watercolor and oil paint.
“Boy Fishing” is also a painting that could be taken place on one of Minnesota’s many lakes. From the wooden boat, the bent fishing line, the net scooping up the catch of the day…to the lush green trees and the yellow straw hat which serves as Homer’s focal point…all are common sights on a warm summer day in any one of our local neighborhood fishing holes.
“Boy Fishing” (1892) watercolor, 14.6″ x 21″, at home in the San Antonio (TX) Museum of Art
Homer’s attention to detail can be appreciated by all fisherman. He especially enjoyed fly fishing. In several of Homer’s fishing pictures, flies of the Red Ibis, or similar color can be identified. Given the artist’s penchant for including a splash of vermilion in his paintings, this was an obvious choice.
“Fishin'” brings it all home with two young boys in straw hats and waders trying their luck at the local fishing hole with hand-made fishing rods.
Ultimately, they do not care if they actually catch any fish! Just fishin’ is what fishin’ is all about!
“Fishin’ “ (1878) watercolor, 7″ x 8.5″ resides at the Colby College Museum of Art (Maine).
As noted earlier, I enjoy the paintings of Winslow Homer. I have learned so much more to appreciate about his work during this study which unveiled his fascination with fishing! Viewing his work in future museum visits will add a new level of enjoyment and depth of appreciation!
Summer Road Trips – “Coming and Going” by Norman Rockwell