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Sponge Fishermen, Bahamas

Winslow Homer American

Not on view

In the late nineteenth century, sponging was the main industry of the Bahamas. At its peak around 1900, about one-third of the total male Bahamian workforce was employed in the business, which exported over a million pounds of sponges per year, mainly to North America and Europe as popular bath items. Homer presents a distant view, likely of the Nassau Sponge Exchange, the epicenter of the islands’ trade. As Black fishermen return to port after an expedition, the White merchants survey the bountiful harvest from the dock. Homer’s sunlit composition, which takes place under brilliant blue skies and towering palms, is picturesque rather than critical and reveals no hint of the arduous conditions and meager wages.

Sponge Fishermen, Bahamas, Winslow Homer (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1836–1910 Prouts Neck, Maine), Watercolor, gouache, and graphite on paper, American

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