Coast fishermen, 1848
Throughout his long life as a painter, Andreas Achenbach, whom contemporaries revered as the “master of land and sea”, concentrated on the depiction of nature, on its atmospheric composition and on the integration of human life into his landscape paintings and seascapes. Whereas at the beginning of his brilliant career he had mainly produced dramatic pictures of sea distress and shipwrecks for the sensation-hungry educated bourgeoisie and aristocratic patrons, from the middle of the century he was increasingly concerned with the everyday world of fishermen and seamen on the coasts or at sea. In doing so, he was able to draw on the visual impressions of his study trips to Holland in 1835 and 1840. In this painting, Achenbach depicts the return from fishing of a fleet of Dutch fishing boats, so-called Buisen. While dark clouds are gathering from the right edge of the picture, on the left the sky light is atmospherically reflected in the water puddles and tideways of the wide beach at low tide. The fishermen are about to unrig; the boat on the far left has already pulled up a net to dry on the mast. A group of people unload their catch in baskets – the foremost figures near the beach, together with a small child, seem to be running directly towards us viewers. Along a diagonal immanent in the picture, Achenbach stages an atmospheric, romantic, yet realistic everyday scene of fishermen on the North Sea coast, who wrestle with the sea anew every day. He cleverly contrasts a graduated cool blue tonality with warm sky light that breaks through the clouds and is reflected glittering on the wet beach.