Johan Hendrik van Mastenbroek (1875-1945) has become known as a painter of the Rotterdam harbours, the Maas and the Zuiderzee works. His work documents, as it were, the great technical progress and the rapidly increasing activity in the Rotterdam harbors after 1900. The painter liked to sketch outside in rainy weather because of the beauty of the skies and the bright colors: 'I could stand and feast on the wonderful cloud formations and of the color-rich battle between sun and clouds', he wrote to a friend in 1945. Mastenbroek was already widely successful in his lifetime with his impressionistic work. He was one of the best paid painters affiliated with the Haagse Kunstkring and the Hollandsche Teeken-Maatschappij and was a welcome exhibitor at Art et Amicitiae in Amsterdam. In 1931 he painted his most important industrial series, a large series of drawings and paintings about the reclamation of the Zuiderzee and the closing of the Afsluitdijk.
Mastenbroek knew at a young age that he wanted to be a painter. The son of a paint dealer, picture seller and painter, he initially works in his father's business as a house painter and decorator. In the evening he takes classes at the academy in Rotterdam. Soon he can devote himself entirely to painting, with which he achieves more and more success. Even during his lifetime, Mastenbroek was counted among the late bloomers of the Hague School. His atmospheric images of the Rotterdam harbors with high cloudy skies, which he often painted outdoors, are strongly inspired by the work of Jacob Maris. Van Mastenbroek emerges as the chronicler of the new era through his fascination with the development of Rotterdam as a world port at the beginning of the twentieth century. In his paintings he accurately records the activities in the port area, with increasingly modern motorboats, smoking steamers, cranes and dredgers. In the foreground dockworkers working or eating, figures in a boat or walkers on a quay.
In the first place, Mastenbroek was a harbor painter, but as an avid hunter he also painted hunting scenes. These are mainly landscapes decorated with hunters, dogs, invading ducks and pheasants. Just as he recorded the activity of the workers and skippers in the ports, he drew the activity of the hunters in the field. They are busy setting out decoy ducks, looking for snipe beds or 'beating out' a hedge. The old world with its pristine nature and vast landscapes united in its landscapes with the new age and all its technical possibilities.
In 1912 he moves from Rotterdam to Scheveningen. In his villa 'Quambi' he makes his oil paints in the studio that he had built near the house. For years he traveled by train and tram to his beloved Rotterdam to walk around and work there. From the second half of the 1920s, his work was considered somewhat less popular and old-fashioned, and he reached an artistic impasse. The assignment he received from the Ministry of Water Management in 1931 to record the reclamation of the Zuiderzee and the reclamation of the Noordoostpolder came at the right time.