Fishing by the Stream

Edward Lamson Henry (American, 1841—1919)
Fishing by the Stream, 1873
oil on canvas

People say laughter is the best medicine, and although this painting of a dog being caught on a fly may be unnerving to today’s audience, Edward Lamson Henry’s scene was welcome comedic relief in the late nineteenth century.

Humor within American art has always had an ability to address the discontents felt by American generations in a cathartic way. In the painting Fishing by the Stream, a well-dressed, upper-class couple struggle to pull off their leisurely day of fishing and reading by the riverbank. After a fumbled fly snags the ear of the couple’s small dog, the commotion alerts the attention of two countrymen who witness the unfolding scene from the other side of the river. The couple appears out of their element, illuminating the tensions within nineteenth-century America as urban culture pulls people further away from the natural world.

Edward Lamson Henry was one of America’s leading nineteenth-century artists of genre and historical scenes, and his many paintings record daily life in the American countryside. Henry was a well-trained artist, developing his skills in Paris alongside great masters. Henry completed Fishing by the Stream after settling down in New York City where he painted from his studio and focused on American subject matter. Although difficult to surmise from this painting, Henry was a lover of animals, and in the 1870s he owned two small dogs named Peter and Charlie, similar to the one depicted here. Maybe the unfortunate fate met by the dog in this painting, an animal close to Henry’s heart, is an expression of the artist’s own personal struggle to maintain a connection with nature while living in the city.