Clearly painted at the height of his career, Playtime on the Beach should be regarded as one of the outstanding masterpieces of Bernardus Blommers’ oeuvre. His reputation as a painter of dune scenes and seascapes in which figures dominate the composition rests upon works of this superior caliber. The present painting also displays the characteristic anecdotal qualities upon which Blommers’ artistic reputation rests. The subject matter, the beautifully balanced composition, the colors and tones of the palette, its excellent condition and its recent discovery in a private Midwestern institution make its appearance on the market a rare event.
Bernard Blommers was the son of Pieter Blommers, a well-respected printer and was initially trained as a lithographer. However, his artistic interests lay elsewhere and he actively pursued a career as an artist and enrolled in the Academy of The Hague.
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 Playtime on the Beach, four children play with toy boats made from their wooden shoes in the gentle, shallow waves on the beach at Scheveningen. The older sister holds the baby between her knees, while the little boy and girl send their makeshift boats on their way in the lapping waves. To Blommers, children represented happiness and innocence, and he often captured children’s play in his paintings. He himself once said that although he saw children by the beach almost every day, they offered him something new each time. (Ja, dat schilder ik graag, sulke kinderen aan see, Ik zie ze bijna iegere dag zoo, en toch altijd weer is ‘t nieuw, moet ik eer even bij stilstaan’ (T. de Liefde – van Brakel, B. J. Blommers (1845-1915), Katwijk, 1993, p. 39).
This carefree and charming aspect of Blommers’ work made him 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 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, 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).