A boy is fishing for mussels in the shallow water. He bends far forward to poke through the mudflat with his tool – a rake or a hand net. Will he succeed?
When this painting was made, Max Liebermann`s interest had already shifted from depicting working life to motives of leisure time at the sea. In Mussel Fisher – Grey Sea as well, the focus is not so much on the hardship of sea-related work as on the attempt to artistically capture the light, the air and the atmosphere. Liebermann’s full attention is on the brownish-silvery, shimmering water which, in many places, is churned up into white waves by the broad brushwork. Only faintly visible, four people are bathing in the distance.
The catch of a mussel fisher was always a welcome addition to the sparse diet of coast dwellers and ensured their existence. In the early twentieth century, blue mussels in particular were collected exclusively by hand on the mudflats during outgoing tide. Their shells, too, found a variety of uses: shell limestone could be turned into mortar and wall paint, and when ground, the shells were also used in the fields as fertiliser.