This beautifully preserved panel is one of a group of views of Dordrecht painted by Van Goyen, looking towards the Groote Kerk. The viewpoint is from somewhere near the confluence of the Oude Maas, the Upper Merwede and the Dortsche Kil, looking north-east, although all of these works would have been built up in Van Goyen's studio from sketches made on his extensive travels. Comparable views, in terms of location, include those of 1644 in the Musée Royal des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; of 1648 in the Dienst voor's Rijks Verspreide Kunstvoorwerpen, The Hague, and the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna; of 1649 in the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio; of 1653/5 in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm; and the undated views in the Nationalgalerie, Oslo, the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
The last number of the date on the present painting is ambiguous; Hans-Ulrich Beck in his 1973 catalogue raisonné suggested 1644, but noted that alternative readings were 1640, 1646 and 1648. Certainly stylistic comparison with the Brussels, Washington and Liverpool pictures would suggest that this is not a work of the mid-1640s, all of which are suffused by the brown tonality so characteristic of Van Goyen's work of that date. Instead, the silvery tones of this painting are comparable to his works of the late 1630s, from which the artist moved away from approximately 1638-40, so it might be that the traditional date of 1640 is to be preferred. It was so described in the nineteenth-century sale catalogues, and it may be that at that point the last digit was more fully legible.
Sir Julius Wernher, Bt., was one of the great nineteenth and early twentieth century magnates of the South African mining boom, particularly in gold and diamonds. Along with his partner, Alfred Beit, Sir Julius set up what would become the Central Mining and Investment Corporation, becoming one of the leading businessmen of his age. A British subject from 1898, he was introduced through the brothers Maurice and Rudolph Kann to the great German connoisseur, curator and art historian, Wilhelm von Bode (1845-1929). It was the latter who acted as advisor to both men, helping them assemble the remarkable collections that still remain in part on public display today: the Wernher collection at Ranger's House, Blackheath, the Beit collection at Russborough, Co. Wicklow.
Wernher's collection, housed at Bath House, Piccadilly, and subsequently also at Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, to a great degree reflected von Bode's taste, and showed the remarkable discernment and taste of both collector and advisor. It comprised primarily Old Master Paintings, Renaissance sculpture and wunderkammer works of art, including exceptional silver, porcelain and ivories, particularly of the fifteeenth to the early seventeenth centuries. Particularly following the acquisition of Luton Hoo, this was augmented by works more of the English Georgian and French rococo periods. Highlights of the paintings collection included Albrecht Altdorfer's Christ taking leave of His Mother and Bartolomé Bermejo's Saint Michael (London, National Gallery), Titian's Portrait of Giacomo Doria (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum) and Watteau's La Gamme d'Amour, which Sir Julius himself bequeathed to the National Gallery, London.