Big Fish Eat Little Fish Pieter Bruegel Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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In 1556 Pieter Bruegel painted Big Fish Eat Little Fish, little did he know how the painting would still be relevant all this time later and how it had influenced and been replicated by other artists.

It was the first of his drawings to concern the representation of a proverb. It is also one of Pieter Bruegel's most haunting images, focusing upon a large fish beached on land as a fisherman cuts him open with a knife that is bigger than the human himself.

Inside the Big fish spill out loads of little fish. The artwork itself overflows, like the fish, with detail. The land, sea and air seem to bulge with fish, some of them hanging from trees, whilst others fly through the sky in a surreal fashion.

A man in a boat points at the scene and he is attributed with the paintings caption "Look son, I have long known that the big fish eat the small." A representation in vernacular form of the Latin proverb which still has relevance in present day as there seems to be unrest with people rebelling against the elites by placing there votes for people who present themselves as outsiders, whilst big businesses rules against the little people.

The drawing as well as being relevant in it's message also had a life of it's own after Bruegel painted it, and quite a confusing one too. Pieter Van Der Hayden made an engraving of the painting, yet this engraving was given the signature of Hieronymus Bosch who died in 1516.

A baffling occurrence which can only be explained by the print's publisher changing the name to a more famous name in order to increase the value of the engraving. Bosch was probably chosen as his work was an obvious influence of Bruegel, and this can be seen very obviously in the painting Big Fish Eat Little Fish.