John McEwen

The next best thing

This handsome book should be given to all those non-Waltonians who say, ‘I don’t fish because I haven’t got the patience’, because it shows that fishing is ultimately about contemplation.

Winslow Homer: Artist and Angler is an exhibition catalogue for the show which was recently at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and soon will be at the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth (11 April-2 June); but it is presented as a book, and an exceptionally pleasing one, thanks to the fidelity of the illustrations and the generosity of Ann Karlstrom’s design. The text inevitably is very much the bread of the sandwich. It consists of seven essays, two of them by Patricia Junker, Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Amon Carter Museum in gloriously un-pc Texas and herself a keen angler, and pads out its limited subject with a beginner’s guide to fishing lore and a brief history of American 19th-century fishing art.

Winslow Homer was born in Boston in 1836 and died at Prout’s Neck, Maine, in 1910. What an artist he is, among the greatest in the American grain. Before Homer American fishing pictures seem to have been painted indoors by men in satin breeches. However good, they are ‘fine art’, whereas Homer gives it straight, which makes him dateless, democratic, modern. The watercolours he did on his fly-fishing trips, notably to the Adirondacks, Quebec and Florida, have an authentic feel and tang of the wilderness more engagingly poetic than the histrionics of the painters of the American Sublime.

A distinction is drawn in the book between fishing and angling – as a 19th-century writer put it, ‘an angler, kind reader, is not a fisherman, who plies his calling for a livelihood, careless in what way he gets his scaly rewards’.

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