On his way from Paris to the Netherlands in November 1878, Theo van Gogh stopped in Brussels to see his brother Vincent. Together they visited the Musée des Beaux Arts, where Vincent was impressed at seeing “so many remarkable paintings”. In a letter to his brother, he singled out the work of the artists Charles De Groux (1825–1870), Henri Leys (1815–1869) and Joseph Théodore Coosemans (1828–1904).
Two and a half years later, in spring 1881, Vincent again visited the museum. By then, the collection had moved to another building nearby. Vincent viewed the annual exhibition of the royal Belgian watercolour society. Vincent found the show interesting and was particularly impressed by the Dutch artists. Fishing boat and horseman by Willem Hendrik Mesdag (1831–1915), in particular, captivated him: