Bannister often painted coastal scenes, but seldom focused on surrounding manmade structures as a central subject. Here he provides a rare close-up view of a derelict fishing shack, with its sagging roof and walls and fishing equipment haphazardly strewn about. There are no figures in sight. In spite of the unusual subject matter, Bannister has employed his characteristic colour palette of siennas, umbers, viridian, ochre, and deep blues. This painting may allude to the fishing crisis in Narragansett Bay—where Bannister lived—in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Due to the use of commercial fishing nets, certain species were becoming endangered and less fish were available to hook-and-line fishermen. Bannister, who held a spiritual perception of nature as God’s creation, must have been deeply disturbed by this crisis.
Artist and Abolitionist
Edward Mitchell Bannister, Fishing Shacks, c.1877–85
Oil on wood, 27 x 35.4 cm, Collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, Gift of Howard S. and Dorothy Lampal (1983.95.111).