About this artwork

Born and raised in Fisherrow in Musselburgh (near Edinburgh), Burnett identified with the fishing communities of the Firth of Forth. Oysters were an abundant and popular food, often sold in cellar-like premises called ‘howffs’. Oyster howffs often doubled as drinking dens, and were hugely popular in Edinburgh as well ports like Leith, the setting for this scene. The flat, wide shells of the native Firth oysters can be seen discarded on the floor. These oysters were so popular with rich and poor alike that they were overfished to near extinction by the end of the nineteenth century. Musselburgh, where Burnet was raised, was home to prime oyster beds and he would have seen the numerous boats dredging during oyster season. Burnet’s treatment of this scene evokes tavern interiors by the seventeenth-century Flemish genre painter David Teniers the younger.

John Burnet

John Burnet