The Herring Net

Winslow Homer (1885) • 30.20″ x 48.5″ • Art Institute of Chicago

Visions of Life by the Sea

In 1883, Winslow Homer moved to Prout’s Neck, Maine, and proceeded to create a series of images 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, he made a trip to a fishing community in Tynemouth, England, that fundamentally changed his work and life. His late paintings focused almost exclusively on mankind’s age-old contest with nature.

Here in The 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 anonymous 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, a boy, unloads the catch. With teamwork so necessary for survival, both strive to steady the precarious boat as it rides the incoming swells. With their obscured facial features and large hats, the fishermen do not represent specific individuals but humanity in general.

We are told in the Bible that Jesus hung around the sea with fishermen. In fact He chose his first disciples (Andrew, together with Peter, James, and John) from among them. And that begs this question: Why?

If you think about the qualities of fishermen, that might help. There are least five of them: willingness to learn, patience, determination, instinct, and imagination.

Fishermen are taught this skill at a young age usually by the invitation of a parent or relative. Children are eager to learn and willing do what it takes to master the new task. Their mind is readily open to new ways and ideas. Jesus knew these apostles were similar. They were open to Jesus, who “baited” them with a simple invitation, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” Fishers of what!? Jesus spiked their curiosity, hence Andrew and Peter left their equipment, followed by James and John. They wanted to know more. They were willing to follow Jesus in order to learn more. Their lives were transformed forever. Is Jesus calling you to “come?” What do you need to need to “drop” or let go of to follow Him more closely? Are you open to His Words? What do you want to learn?

Good fishermen teach others how to fish, list the possibilities, fish with them, watch them succeed, then hand over the rod. Jesus did this with the apostles. He taught them, instilled hope, showed the way, affirmed their accomplishments then handed over the Church. It’s our turn to cast into the deep. Jesus has equipped you with the rod and reel of faith. Cast your line into the water and see what happens! God is full of surprises! Happy fishing!

The Herring Net


Historic Art Gallery the Herring Net by Winslow Homer Framed Canvas Print, 12" x 20", Dark Gold Gallery.