This is one of Salomon van Ruysdael's purest and most eloquent marine paintings and a fine example of his genius at rendering light and atmosphere. The subject is the day-to-day activity on a river estuary on a blustery summer's day. In a picture filled almost entirely by sky and water, there is just a thin, horizontal strip of land, rendered in liguid grey-green paint, to divide the two. The key vertical accent in the design, and the principal focal point, is provided by the sailboat in the foreground flying the Dutch flag. This is a schouw, a basic, shallow water vessel designed to ship goods and passengers between towns on inland waterways, which is here shown travelling away from the viewer towards the land. It is quite possible that the village on the shore is Van Ruysdael's birthplace of Naarden. The church closely resembles Naarden's Grote Kerk, albeit without the small tower on its nave. This type of inaccuracy was typical of the artist's rather creative approach to topographical verisimilitude in favour of achieving the desired picturesque effect.
Van Ruysdael manages to convey an effortless sense of space in this work by the subtle transition of light, from the shadowed choppy water in the foreground, to the smoother reflective light of the water beyond. The horizon is marked by sweeping strokes of thick paint while the formation of the airy clouds above echoes to some extent the main features in the composition below, so that, for instance, the main boat is crowned by a large cloud with a patch of white at the top. The artist's handling of the brush is supremely confident yet extraordinarily delicate at the same time. He applies paint 'wet-in-wet' in a fluent, seemingly spontaneous manner, that enhances the strong sense of movement in the scene, both of the boats on the water and of the breeze blowing left to right. Through these means Van Ruysdael manages to convey a remarkable sense of the transitory nature of the elements.
The Dreesmann picture can be dated with accuracy to circa 1650, which is widely recognised as the highpoint in Van Ruysdael's artistic career. Marijke de Kinkelder, of the RKD, The Hague, has pointed out that this work is very close to the Marine, dated 1650, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which has identical dimensions (fig. 1). In these works the artist shuns the depiction of landscape and avoids his favoured use of compositional repoussoirs to produce panoramas that come as close as any works in his oeuvre to pure marine paintings.