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Fishermen hauling a Net
Jan van Goyen

This painting is a companion piece to A River Scene, with a Hut on an Island (also in the National Gallery’s collection), which is exactly the same size and depicts a similar horizon and arrangement of boats, but, as the title suggests, includes an island in the middle ground.

The two are similar, but there are many subtle differences between them. The other painting depicts a scene at high water, whereas here it is clearly at or near low tide. The mudflats, still glistening wet, are exposed; the withies – slender stems of willow which have been put in place to mark the position of the mudbank when it is covered by the tide – are temporarily redundant. And while the light in the companion painting is clear and relatively bright, there is a flatter greyness to this scene. The short, sideways brush marks in the sky suggest drizzle is in the air.

Key facts
Artist Jan van Goyen
Artist dates 1596 - 1656
Full title Fishermen hauling a Net
Group Two River Scenes
Date made 1640-5
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 37 x 33 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Mrs Elizabeth Carstairs, 1952
Inventory number NG6155
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Two River Scenes


Both of these pictures are of identical size and seem to have been made to hang side by side. With a pair of paintings, Jan van Goyen could engage viewers in a more complex way than he could with a single picture. There are some striking similarities between the two: the low horizons, the islands or mudflats in the middle ground, the distant buildings, the angle of the navigation markers, the three boats in similar positions. But there are also subtle differences. The two distant churches may be at a similar point on the horizon, but one has a tower and the other a spire. One navigation marker has two balls at the top, the other just one.

Only by careful attention can we decide whether van Goyen has painted two different scenes or the same view at a different state of the tide. Perhaps he was suggesting that, in both landscapes and paintings, the more we look, the more we see.