The Fishing Party
Considered one of the foremost painters of nineteenth-century America, Winslow Homer did not benefit from formal academic training early in his career. Instead, his professional experience as an artist was rooted in freelance illustration work for periodicals such as Harper’s Weekly, Century Magazine, and Appleton’s Journal of Literature, Science, and Art, from which this 1869 image comes. An avid angler, Homer made the depiction of fishing a lifelong artistic pursuit. From his earliest days as an illustrator in the popular press, to his watercolors of fisherwomen along the northern coast of England, to his late oil paintings of the sea, Homer kept his eye trained on fishing themes.
Here, Homer portrays three fashionable women fishing on the banks of the Sawkill Creek in Pennsylvania. Although the Appleton’s text accompanying this supplemental illustration belittles female interest in fishing, suggesting that “as a class [ladies] utterly lack that precision so necessary for the art, angling is always too much for them,” Homer’s image complicates this interpretation. Outfitted with proper equipment, the three women use correct angling form. Separate from the idle revelers in the background, each of these women focuses intently on three separate activities integral to angling: one fishes, one holds her creel, and the third works on her tackle.
Throughout Homer’s lifetime, women took an increasingly active role in professional and public life, and female subjects constitute an enduring and central place in his artistic output. In this early scene of outdoor leisure, it is the women, not the reclining men, who fish.