Winslow Homer painted The Fisher Girl during his first year at Prout’s Neck (near Portland), Maine. There, in a studio just yards from the beach, the painter, printmaker, and illustrator would create the celebrated seascapes of his final years.
The Mead’s canvas captures a transition in the artist’s style. The muscular figure recalls Homer’s earlier depictions (1881-82) of fishing women in the English village of Cullercoats. The fog-obscured setting, in which traces of a previously painted landscape remain visible beneath the surface, may relate to Homer’s experience painting in watercolor, a medium he had adopted in 1873 and in which he also excelled. The dramatically simplified tonal field seems also to anticipate Homer’s bold seascapes of the years to come.
Homer painted the figure from life: his model, 16 year-old Ida Meserve Harding of nearby Pine Point, Maine, stood for the painting for a reported salary of three dollars a day, rain or shine. Homer considered the resulting canvas “the best single figure that I remember having painted.”
The Fisher Girl is, indeed, a work for the ages: the young woman’s iconic stance not only indicates the assured demeanor of a competent laborer; it also harkens back to such heroic exemplars as Michelangelo’s frescoed sibyls in the Sistine Chapel (1508-12). The loosely gathered fishing net and billowing tartan shawl soften the figure’s silhouette, creating a more timeless profile—almost-classical draperies suited to the coast of Maine.
EEB, May 2013
Painted by one of the greatest American artists of the nineteenth century, Winslow Homer's "Fisher Girl" depicts a young woman on the rocky coast of Maine on a stormy day. Homer was famous for such seascapes, which often juxtapose nature on a grand scale with a vulnerable, solitary living form. Here, Homer uses neutral tones and soft outlines to set the woman apart from the almost indistinguishable landscape. The sense of vastness is heightened by the lone seagull and the continuity between land and sea.
Emily Mackey, Class of 2010
genre scenes; storms; seascapes; coastlines; fishing; birds; women; waves; signatures; portraits
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