Controlling the sea: painting the Zuiderzee engineering works

Artist Johan Hendrik van Mastenbroek captures the gigantic Zuiderzee construction works.

by
Adrian Murphy (Europeana Foundation)

With the majority of the Netherlands at or below sea level, the Dutch have battled the seas for centuries.

Along the Dutch coast, systems of dykes and barriers have been built, some of which have been in place for centuries.

One of the most ambitious of these - the Zuiderzee works - was built in the early 20th century.

In the wake of devastating flooding in 1916, the Dutch government decided to close off the Zuiderzee sea with a system of dams and dikes, land reclamation and water drainage work, creating instead an inland sea.

EXPLORE MORE: The Watersnoodramp: the 1953 Dutch battle against water in moving image

Massive construction works took place through the 1920s and 1930s to build this system - including the main dam - the Afsluitdijk - which opened in September 1933.

These construction works inspired artist Johan Hendrik van Mastenbroek whose paintings and sketches from the time capture the gigantic extent of the project.

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Browse the digitised collections of the Zuiderzee Museum
Netherlands art industrial heritage working lives