From a family of accomplished Flemish artists, Gillis de Hondecoeter moved from the Southern Netherlands to the United Provinces at the beginning of the 17th century. By 1602, he was living in the Dutch city of Utrecht. Houbraken records that the young artist 'who had learned to paint in his youth for his own pleasure (as was common at the time), applied himself to portraiture to earn money, since he and his father found themselves stripped of their belongings'. None of his early portraiture is known to survive, however, and Houbraken notes that he soon 'turned to painting landscapes afterwards as well, taking Roelandt Savery and David Vinckboons as his examples'. Indeed, Gillis is likely to have initially trained with his father, but it was in Utrecht that he would have encountered the work of his contemporary Roelandt Savery (1576-1639), whose rocky landscapes and animal scenes were an important precedent for the present work.
Dated 1626, this painting was produced when De Hondecoeter was living in Amsterdam, where he became the head of the Guild of Saint Luke in 1636. In this period, the artist favored representing woodland animals--often deer--resting next to dynamic rock formations, with vast landscapes in the background, as seen in his Rocky landscape with deer and goats, dated 1620 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. SK-A-1740). Bathed in golden light, the present painting is a fantasy vision of tranquility, with picturesque cottages flanking opposite shores of an estuary. De Hondecoeter's careful study of color and optical effects is particularly evident in the harmonious balance between the cool, pale blues of the water fading into the distance and the warm, earth-tones in the foreground.