Bernardus Blommers’ reputation as a painter of dune scenes and seascapes in which figures dominate the composition rests upon works such as Return of the Fishing Boats. The present painting displays the characteristic anecdotal qualities upon which Blommers’ artistic reputation rests.
While painting on the beach at Scheveningen, Blommers befriended fellow artist Josef Izraels. Like Israels, Blommers often went to the beach to find inspiration. Although they shared a fascination with the lives of Dutch fisher folk and made them a theme central to their respective oeuvres, each artist had a different approach toward this subject matter. Israels maintained a social-realist approach and did not hesitate to depict the hardship often experienced by the impoverished Dutch fisher folk. Blommers’ interpretations were often softer and more anecdotal. The idyllic scene depicted in the present work is characteristic of his conception of traditional fisher family life. In Return of the Fishing Boats, a group of women sort through the day’s catch in the shallows on the beach at Scheveningen with the recently returned fishing boats bobbing in the waves just off shore.
Blommers is regarded as one of the most sought-after and renowned painters of The Hague School. His work and that of his peers was widely collected, not only in the Netherlands, but also in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. Dutch dealers and other Hague School artists eagerly participated in the major art exhibitions that were organized in these countries and many of Blommers’ paintings found their way into major international collections. In 1893, Holland’s leading modern school of paintings was well-represented in the Dutch national exhibition at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago where Blommers’ contribution was singled out for a medal in oil painting. This led to even wider exposure in the American market, primarily in New York, Chicago and Boston. Exhibitions of The Hague School featured prominently at both Knoedler and at Boussod, Valadon & Company in New York at the turn of the century.
So formidable became Blommers’ artistic reputation that when the artist and his wife visited the United States in 1904 he was received with all honors by President Theodore Roosevelt. In a May 1 interview in the New York Times during the visit, the artist commented on his first impressions of the United States, ‘I have reason to feel at home in the United States, for since the Centennial in Philadelphia, my pictures have found the kindest reception over here. At the Columbian Exposition in Chicago our Holland painters met with a most gratifying success. Still, though I know that Americans have appreciated my works these many years, I cannot help being startled when, in a land so far away from my quiet home, I come upon a show window, and in it one of my pictures. Do what I will, it gives me a start’ (New York Times, Impressions of America on a Dutch Impressionist Artist, 1 May 1904).