THE NET, THE WARNING, THE LOST – A Trilogy of Paintings that Show the Rapture, Tribulation and Second Coming through Art.

The Herring Net

Winslow Homer

painted in 1885

Simon Peter went up, and drew the net full, an hundred and fifty and three. Jesus saith unto them, come and dine. And none ask him who art thou, knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then cometh, and giveth them. This is the third time Jesus shewed himself [John 21:11-14]. Mathematically, 153 is a triangular number, more precisely it is the sum of the integer numbers from 1 to 17 inclusive; more significantly, 153 also has the rare property that it is the sum of the cubes of its own digits (i.e. 153 = 1x1x1 + 5x5x5 + 3x3x3). In the time of Pythagoras, 153 was most significant for being one of the two numbers in the closest fraction known, at the time, to the true value of the square root of 3, the fraction in question being 265/153 (the difference between this and the square root of 3 is merely 0.000025……). The ratio of 153:265 was consequently known throughout the Hellenic world as the measure of the fish.

The cross

Catch of the 153 fish

The Father

The Son

The Second Coming – the Son outside the throne and leaving the Father on the throne

Oil on canvas, 1885; 76.5 x 122.9 cm Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection, 1937.1039

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.

Homer continued to explore these themes upon his return to the United States. In 1885 he produced three paintings in rapid succession, The Herring Net, The Fog Warning (1885; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), and Lost on the Grand Banks (1885; private collection), that pit fishermen against the sea and invoke the timeless conflict between the forces of man and nature. As one early twentieth-century critic suggested, “it was the struggle of men with the sea, of the waves with the land. . . the poise of and buoyancy of boats among threatening billows . . . in general, a world of ceaseless strife and motion that engaged [his] imagination.” These paintings are all approximately the same size, and imply a narrative progression even though their protagonists differ. They depict the three principal fish of the New England fishing industry: herring, halibut, and cod. In the first, The Herring Net, two fishermen load a haul of herring onto their small dory. The second painting shows a lone fisherman in a dory weighed down by two large halibut, looking anxiously at the horizon darkening with fog and the schooner that awaits him. In the final picture fog has descended upon two cod fishermen who scan the sea for signs of life.

Nets were put out at dusk when the fish were feeding and were left to drift like a giant curtain in the sea. At the end of the night the nets were hauled in and the fish shaken out. It was hard and difficult work. When the fish were onboard, the boats made for shore as fast as possible. Once in harbour the herring were unpacked using baskets and taken to the fishmarket or curing yard.

Fog Warning

Lost on the Grand Banks 1885 – Owned by Bill Gates – most valuable painting sold privately May 6, 1998, $30 million, Guinness World Records 2006