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Three children are paddling up to their calves in the sea, while a fourth sits astride her elder brother’s back, holding on tight. All are spellbound by the sight of the toy boat bobbing up and down on the waves: will it stay afloat? In the distance, we can just make out a real sailing ship on the horizon. Children of the Sea was painted in 1872 by Jozef Israëls. Despite the sensation he had caused with his tragic scenes featuring the harsh lives of fishermen, it was his pictures of fishermen’s children at play that created a craze among art lovers worldwide. The painter obliged by producing countless variations on the theme, and his output was astonishing. Once the children-of-the-sea scenes had attracted the attention of several major exhibitions, and affordable prints of them came onto the market, their popularity soared, and the general public too became familiar with the sunlit beach scenes. In this edition of the Rijksmuseum Series author Dieuwertje Dekker follows the progress of Israëls’s scenes featuring fishermen’s children at play – from sketch to painting and from the Netherlands around the world – and shows that one of these paintings has finally secured a well-earned place in the Rijksmuseum.