The tide is ebbing at Egmond-aan-Zee, leaving a pattern of swirls in the still-wet sand. You can sense the outward sweep and undertow of the tide before the little waves tumble back towards the shore.
The people lingering on the beach aren't fishermen, like the silhouetted figures near the boats. They are middle-class people out for a stroll. The women’s hair is protected by hoods, their lacy overskirts tied back with ribbons; the men wear enormous brimmed hats, breeches and stockings. One young man whisks a woman up in his arms – he pretends to throw her into the waves and she kicks her feet in protest. His hat falls off and his hair flies as their dog leaps behind them.
These figures may be by Gerrit van Battem, who worked with Jacob van Ruisdael in the 1670s, sometimes adding figures to some of his landscapes. It was a common practice at the time for artists to collaborate in this way.
The tide is ebbing at Egmond-aan-Zee, leaving a pattern of loops and swirls in the still-wet sand. You can sense the outward sweep and undertow of the tide before the little waves tumble back towards the shore.
Above, clouds billow, fast moving, sweeping in an arc overhead that echoes the curved mark left in the shingle. The wind blows off the sea, driving two small fishing boats ashore towards a group of men – tiny silhouettes in the distance – waiting to heave them to safety. A break in the clouds lights up the hills beyond the beach a chalky green, a line of light that continues out to sea and picks out more small vessels far out, their sails straining in the wind.
More boats are drawn up in the shelter of the sand dunes. The tower of the church that once identified the little town of Egmond-aan-Zee stands sentinel, but 70 years later it was engulfed by the sea and swept away. Huddled into the dunes, two huts made entirely of reeds seem vulnerable against the weather; a silhouetted man and boy on the high dune above them look out at the sea, apparently untroubled by the wind and the threat of rain.
Nor does the weather put off the people chatting on the beach. These are not fishermen but middle-class people out for a stroll, wrapped up warm but in smart, fashionable dress. The women’s hair is protected by hoods, their lacy overskirts pulled back and tied with ribbons in a neat fan shape to keep them clean; one shields her face from the wind with a little white fan. The men chat in their enormous brimmed hats, breeches and stockings. Further along the sands, and a little less clearly defined, a woman – a nursemaid, perhaps – holds two little white-clad girls by the hand – two of the group watch as one young man whisks a woman up in his arms. He pretends to throw her into the waves and she kicks her feet in protest. His hat falls off and his hair flies as their little dog leaps and barks behind them.
It may be that these delightful figures weren't painted by Jacob van Ruisdael but by Gerrit van Battem, who worked with the artist in the 1670s, sometimes adding figures to some of his landscapes. It was a common practice at the time for artists to collaborate in this way, one painting the landscape, the other the figures.
Albeit unknowingly, van Ruisdael appears to be representing the beginning of the notion of the seaside as a place of respite and relaxation rather than one best left to sailors and fishermen – long before it became fashionable in Britain. More than a hundred years later, the great English landscape painter John Constable is said to have proposed to his wife Maria after seeing a print of the same view. He wrote in a letter to her that it reminded him of Bognor and all that was dear to him.
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