Hendrik Willem Mesdag didn’t begin focusing on sea and beach scenes until 1868, when he was thirty-seven. At that time, the painter Hendrik Willem Mesdag rented a room in Scheveningen with a beach view to makes studies of scenes in nature. Despite his late start, Hendrik Willem Mesdag is perhaps the finest of the Hague School seascape artists, placing him in a very old Dutch tradition. Hendrik Willem Mesdag painted all aspects of the fisherman’s life: shrimp fishers, shellfish fishermen, lifeboats, and most of all, ships setting sail or coming home.
Here, Hendrik Willem Mesdag paints two bomschuiten (the Dutch sailing vessels you see here). A favoured subject of Hendrik Willem Mesdag, it is a ship that replaced the type called a pink. The ships have just arrived, and they are preparing to lower the sails. Seaside villages like Scheveningen, Katwijk, Noordwijk, and Zandvoort had no ports, and the flat-bellied fishing boats would ‘beach’ themselves with their catch on the sandbars in the shallow water below the dunes.
Hendrik Willem Mesdag rendered the Fisherwomen in the traditional clothing of Scheveningen. They wait patiently for the crew to unload and sort the flatfish and roundfish. Then, under close watch, all would be auctioned, taken to market, and sold to consumers. It is not only the women’s outfits that reveal that this is at Scheveningen, but the legend ‘Sch 17’ on the sail of the ship in the foreground.
Hendrik Willem Mesdag ‘s contemporaries (such as Bernard Blommers and Philip Sadée) also painted women buying fish to sell at the markets, but they generally painted their subjects from up close, making them the focus of the work.
Out across the calm water, other ships can be seen sailing, their reflections depicting the tranquillity of a sunny day at the seaside. Hendrik Willem Mesdag ‘s focus, however, is not the atmospheric qualities of the sea and sky, but rather the activity on the beach on this summer’s day.