Jozef Israëls (1824 - 1911), c. 1880-1881
oil on canvas,
125 cm x 200 cm
The Mesdag Collection, The Hague
It is not easy to depict sorrow, but Jozef Israëls succeeded in conveying it. The man in the painting is utterly shattered. Behind him in the half-light is the body of his wife; the colour of her skin is nearly indistinguishable from the grey of the bedclothes.
Israëls painted primarily scenes of the life of simple peasants or fishermen. Sometimes, as here, he focused on the more tragic moments. In his diary he wrote that he had discussed the anecdotal aspect of this work of art with Sientje Mesdag. She believed that art did not have to tell a story. Israëls disagreed strongly, and remarked: ‘A “felt’’ work is good, even if badly delineated.’