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A fisherman carries a mermaid ashore in a net in front of a sea landscape.

A large, muscular, medium skin-toned man carries a nude mermaid to shore over his left shoulder. She is light-skinned has a human body from the knees up. Below the knee, each leg transitions into a thin gray-blue fish tail. The mermaid is partially wrapped in the man’s brown fishing net, which is suspended from two sticks that he carries over his right shoulder, his right hand wrapped in the netting. Behind them is a blue-green sea with mountains in the distance. Beside the grasses in the left foreground is a single white flower.

Gallery Text

The mermaid was a popular figure during the nineteenth century. Hans Christian Andersen first published “The Little Mermaid” in 1837, and other writers, from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, to Oscar Wilde, also treated the theme. Whether depicted as a destructive temptress or helpless victim, the mermaid embodied the sacrifices associated with living in two worlds. It is not surprising that this creature captivated contemporary observers, who were living through unprecedented cultural, political, and social changes. This canvas is the last of five paintings Vedder made of this subject, which all depict a fisherman hauling a frightened mermaid from the sea in his net. The narrative may be based on a specific, as yet unidentified, source.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Elihu Vedder, American (New York, NY 1836 - 1923 Rome, Italy)
Fisherman and Mermaid
Work Type
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2130, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, The Pre–Raphaelites and Their Legacy
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Physical Descriptions

Oil on canvas
41 x 71.8 cm (16 1/8 x 28 1/4 in.)
framed: 72.4 x 102.9 x 7 cm (28 1/2 x 40 1/2 x 2 3/4 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: black oil paint, l.l.: Elihu Vedder / Rome, 1888-9


Recorded Ownership History
Sold by the artist to Joseph Randolph Coolidge, April 11, 1888; to his son, Julian Lowell Coolidge; to his son, John Coolidge; his gift to Fogg Art Museum, 1980.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of John P. Coolidge
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Another version of this painting, dated 1879, is in the Hood Museum, Dartmouth College (P.982.53).

Publication History

  • Elihu Vedder, The Digressions of V, Houghton Mifflin Company (Boston and New YOrk, 1910), p. 486
  • Jacquelynn Baas, The Fisherman and the Mermaid: A Recent Acquisition Reflects an Old Story, The Quarterly Review, Hood Museum of Art (Hanover, New Hampshire, Summer 1938), vol. 1 / no. 3, p. 23
  • Regina Soria, Elihu Vedder: American Visionary Artist in Rome (1836-1923), Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (Rutherford, NJ, 1970), p. 202
  • Barbara J. MacAdam, American Art at Dartmouth: Highlights from the Hood Museum of Art, Hood Museum of Art (Hanover and London, 2007), p. 61
  • Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Virginia Anderson, and Kimberly Orcutt, ed., American Paintings at Harvard, Volume Two, Paintings, Drawings, Pastels and Stained Glass by Artists Born 1826-1856, Harvard Art Museums and Yale University Press (U.S.) (Cambridge, MA and New Haven, CT, 2008), p. 375-76, cat. 408, ill. p. 376

Exhibition History

  • Sublimations: Art and Sensuality in the 19th Century, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 07/13/1996 - 07/21/2002
  • 32Q: 2130 19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Collection Highlights
  • Google Art Project

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Verification Level

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