Return from Fishing
Hendrick Willem Mesdag (Dutch, 1831 – 1915)
Datelate 19th century
MediumOil on canvas
DimensionsWork : 38 in. x 5 ft. 2 in. (96.52 cm x 1.6 m)
Frame : 4 ft. 5 3/8 in. x 6 ft. 5 in. (1.4 x 2 m)
Credit LineGift of Louis M. Plansoen
LabelFishing has been vital to the economy and culture of the Netherlands for hundreds of years. Prior to the 20th century, many fishermen along the Netherlands’ rough North Sea coast plied their trade using distinctive flat-bottomed boats called bomschuiten. Manned by crews of up to twelve sailors, these boats trawled the North Sea with nets in search of cod, haddock, flounder and other commercially desirable fish species. When they had caught enough fish, the boats returned to their home villages where they were dragged onto the beach using ropes in order to unload. This painting by Hague School artist Hendrik Willem Mesdag depicts a man riding a horse through pounding waves to collect ropes that will be used to haul a fishing vessel ashore near the town of Scheveningen. Records show that in the late 19th century Scheveningen was home to a fleet of approximately 150 bomschuiten fishing vessels. Most of those vessels were replaced during the 20th century by larger, more sophisticated commercial fishing boats that could harvest much greater quantities of fish, leading to sharp declines in North Sea fish populations that began in the 1970s and still persist today.