Winslow Homer’s group of approximately eighty-five watercolors, created in the Adirondacks between 1889 and 1895, are considered to be his most accomplished. They are the products of an intensively prolific period when the artist seems to have experimented with every aspect of the watercolor medium, from the effects of the Japanese “broken ink” technique to the methods of scraping and blotting often used by British watercolorists.
Entries in the register of the North Woods Club near Minerva, New York, for 1891, record two visits by Homer, one in June–July and the other in October. Most likely he made this work in June, when black flies congregate in the Adirondacks. Here two guides, seated on a rock at water’s edge, build a smoky fire to ward off the swarming insects that attract the feeding fish. The young guide bends to this task while the older one watches intently, as the flies rise into a patch of bright sky between the trees. Innis Howe Shoemaker, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 93