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The Mussel Eaters

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Gustave De Smet
Ghent 1877 – Deurle 1943
(1923)
oil on canvas
93 x 123 cm
Inventory number 2160

In the 1920s, fairs and village fetes were a popular choice of subject matter in painting, most likely in reaction to the horrors of the First World War. This particular variant shows a group feasting on mussels during a typical family outing. But despite its seemingly light-hearted theme, The Mussel Eaters by Gustave De Smet is not a cheerful painting. The mood at the table is not merry and the mussels do not look particularly appetising. Nine figures, all dressed in Sunday best, are seated at a rectangular table. In the background, two openings in the wall look out onto other diners in the restaurant. In the bottom left sits a small dog. The perspective is somewhat skewed: the table and plates are tilted slightly more towards the viewer than the glass and the mussel bowls, as if De Smet wanted to make sure that all the objects in the picture would be instantly recognisable. The content of the painting is restricted to a bear minimum: mussels, plates, and glasses, but no fine detail.

A painting about painting

After 1919, De Smet concentrated mainly on woodcut and linocut, techniques that do not allow intricate detail, and this approach also transpires in his painting. His compositions are simple, with clear lines and well-defined fields of colour. Hence The Mussel Eaters tells us more about De Smet's style than about the diners portrayed.

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