Jozef Israëls, 'Fishermen carrying a Drowned Man', probably 1861
A huddled procession trudges over windswept dunes, headed by a widow with her two children. Behind them, the slumped body of a drowned man is carried by his companions, as Christ was in paintings of the Deposition from the cross. The heavy, hunched, and darkly shaded figures appear weighed down with grief.
The scene has an almost cinematic quality; the dramatic light and composition is moving and we feel the tragedy of the scene.
Concern for human existence, loneliness, and fear of death were recurring themes in the work of the Dutch painter Israëls, and his experience of fishing families at close quarters left a lasting impression on him.
The artist began to make studies for this painting in the coastal village of Zandvoort, probably completing it in his studio in Amsterdam in 1861. It was exhibited at the Paris Salon that year and again in London in 1862, to great acclaim.
In his lifetime, Israëls enjoyed considerable fame as a key member of the Hague School of artists: many people saw him as a follower of Rembrandt, and his sombre realism and muted tones were particularly admired by Van Gogh, who often referred to him in his letters.