On a beach like that at Zantvoort (near Haarlem) or Scheveningen (by The Hague), small fishing boats are hauled up onto the sand and fishermen unload their catch. Clusters of onlookers and potential customers gather around the baskets of fish. In the foreground, a horse and rider make their way toward the village, passing by a pole with an illegible notice at the top.
The date on this panel, which has been celebrated for its "very advanced stage of tonality" at an early point in the development of Dutch landscape painting, has often been published as 1629 (Stechow 1966). However, examination of the inscription under ultraviolet light and magnification reveals that the date is certainly 1637. Furthermore, the picture's "austere hues" (Schama 1987) are considerably exaggerated by the loss, through abrasion, of paint layers in the grassy dunes, which partially makes visible the ground layer and underdrawing. Thus, the painting cannot be considered a pioneering example of the Haarlem style that is found in pictures like Jan van Goyen's Sandy Road with a Farmhouse
(The Met, 1972.25
), of 1627, and—less monochromatically—in Pieter de Molijn's Landscape with a Cottage
, of 1629 (The Met, 95.7
), but is, on the contrary, a comparatively late instance of Ruysdael's stylistic continuity in the period of about 1628 to the end of the 1630s. Significantly, the picture most like this one in the artist's oeuvre is the Coastal Scene
, dated 1636 (art market, 1988), followed by a panel with a different composition but the same theme, dated 1637 (Stechow 1975, no. 267A).
Most of Ruysdael's paintings of about 1636–37 are river views that are not closely related to The Met's picture. Indeed, Stechow's comparison (1966) of the "simple diagonal structure" in this picture and in Molijn's well-known Dune Landscape
, of 1626 (Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig), remains interesting, even if Ruysdael's design dates from eleven, not three, years later. A survey of early works by Ruysdael himself (for example, Dune Landscape with a Horse and Rider on a Road
, 1628; art market, 1988) reveals that they are not dissimilar to the seaside views of 1636–37 in their brushwork and coloring. Nonetheless, the landscapes of the mid-1630s are more carefully described, especially in their fairly numerous figures and objects, but also in passages such as grassy dunes. It should also be noted that no beach scenes of this type are known to have been painted by Ruysdael or by any of his Haarlem colleagues during the 1620s. The earliest work that bears comparison with The Met's picture would appear to be Van Goyen's Fish Market on the Beach at Scheveningen
, dated 1632 (Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig).
Schama (1987) places the "rather misleadingly titled Market by the Seashore
" in the context of paintings and drawings dating from the early 1630s that depict fishing villages such as Scheveningen, Katwijk, Noordwijk, and Beverwijk. He recalls that in the late 1620s, many Dutch herring boats were seized by Flemish ships and privateers in the service of Spain. As a result, Schama suggests, the Dutch developed "an idealized version [vision?] of villages like Scheveningen and Katwijk as embodying the kind of modest indomitability that humanists liked to believe was characteristic of the nation as a whole." Whether or not these thoughts may be applied to Ruysdael's coastal scenes dating from a few years later, it is true that images of Dutch dunes and villages sometimes suggested more to contemporary urban viewers than the pleasure of excursions in the fresh air.
The theme of selling fish at the seashore is also found in the work of later Dutch artists such as Philips Wouwerman, Jan Steen, and the Goyen follower Willem Kool (1608/9–1666); it continued in picturesque views dating into the eighteenth century.
[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]