The (Fine) Art of Fishing

 

By Kelli Huggins / Visitor Experience Coordinator

Trout Brook in the Catskills  Worthington Whittredge

Trout Brook in the Catskills
Worthington Whittredge

 

Fishing enthusiasts will say their sport is an art.

It’s also a fine art, or at least the subject of it.

Given the popularity of fishing throughout Catskills history, it should come as little surprise that fishing scenes crept into local landscape paintings. Let’s start with perhaps the most famous example, Worthington Whittredge’s Trout Brook in the Catskills. The Corcoran Gallery of Art purchased this 1875 painting directly from Whittredge; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC acquired it in 2014.[1]

Whittredge isn’t a household name today, but in the 1870s he was a well-known second generation Hudson River School painter. Trout Brook in the Catskills is a subtle painting compared to better-known dramatic scenes of other Hudson River School works. Painted primarily in shades of brown, the fisherman in the scene almost blends into the background. Yet, look closely, and you’ll see him alone, line cast into the tranquil, glimmering pool. Thick forest surrounds him, the branches of which allow a few flecks of blue sky and beams of sunlight to break the shadows. In other words, a dream fishing hole. There is no indication whether Whittredge painted this from life or if it was a product of his imagination.[2]

Whittredge was not the only painter to find inspiration in a local trout brook. DuBois F. Hasbrouck was a true Catskills painter. Born in Pine Hill in 1860, he displayed artistic talent from a young age. Eventually, his work earned spots in prominent national galleries and shows.[3] One of Hasbrouck’s paintings, Fishing on the Beaverkill, was reprinted in the Ulster & Delaware Railroad’s 1904 guide, The Catskill Mountains: The Most Picturesque Mountain Region on the Globe.[4] The painting is dynamic; though only shown in black and white, the fisherman looks mid-action, like he might be ready to reel in a fish right on the canvas. The composition is open and the fisherman stands opposite an eroded stream bank. A large tree, roots exposed, looks perilously close to toppling over. I have been unable to locate where the painting is today, suggesting it might be in a private collection if it has survived at all.

These are surely not the only Catskills fishing landscapes out there. For example, the Cyclopeida of Painters and Paintings, published in 1900, lists a painting titled Trout Fishing-- Catskill Mountains (1881) by John Williamson (1826-1885). I have also been unable to locate that painting. I hope that there are more. This genre with their unnamed brooks and solitary fisherman, seem to blend both fact and fiction to create something magical, just like a good tall trout tale does.

-KH

 

 

NOTES

[1] The painting is not currently on display at the National Gallery of Art (as of 5/6/19) https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.166502.html#inscription

[2] For a more detailed analysis of the artistry of the painting, check out Jennifer Raab’s "Worthington Whittredge, Trout Brook in the Catskills" in Corcoran Gallery of Art: American Paintings to 1945. Edited by Sarah Cash, 2011: 138-139. https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/corcoran-american-art.pdf

[3] Madison Petrella has written a blog post for Historic Huguenot Street detailing more about Hasbrouck’s life and work: https://hhscollections.wordpress.com/tag/d-f-hasbrouck/

[4] The painting is in the section promoting trout fishing, naturally.