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 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.