This previously unrecorded panel is a work of masterful restraint by the most important Dutch marine painter of the first half of the seventeenth century. Dated to circa 1647-48 by Professor Jan Kelch, the picture displays all the merits of Simon de Vlieger's most assured mature style, as one of the largest and most eloquent calms within his entire oeuvre.
Although little is known about de Vlieger's artistic training, his early work - which mostly consisted of dramatically rendered seascapes and shipwrecks - initially reveals the influence of Hendrick Cornelis Vroom and later of Jan Porcellis. His career seems to have blossomed after his move to Amsterdam in around 1643 where he lived next door to Willem van de Velde the Elder and his son, Willem van de Velde the Younger, who was to become his pupil. Gradually his paintings took on a calmer and more measured character as he evolved a highly personal style, recognisable for its silvery light, spatial harmony and strong draughtsmanship.
Unlike his pupil Willem van de Velde the Younger, Simon de Vlieger was much more interested in depicting various aspects of the sea and in evoking mood than in the meticulous portrayal of specific ships. Although in this example, the ships are rendered with draughtsman-like precision, they are unidentifiable or 'dehistorified' so as to lend the picture a more ethereal, timeless quality. A church tower on the horizon is vaguely reminiscent of Dordrecht but the setting is not localised. De Vlieger's prime concern is in the evocation of the airy, moisture-filled atmosphere of the day, whose tranquility is only disturbed by the booming salute fired out across the water and the trumpeter standing on the bow of the sloop.
He painted with a pointed brush and the waves are rendered with extraordinary care, using hatching and patches through which the brown underlayer is visible, to give the miraculous effect not only of the movement of the water but also something of its depth. A broader brush is used to paint the luminous sky in which - characteristically - a band of light is applied just above the horizon. The remarkable sense of distance between the shoreline and the horizon is measured by the harmonious recession of sailing vessels following a diagonal line towards the right background. The lack of wind is evident not only by the flat sea that offers undisturbed reflections but also by the lifeless, sagging sails of the frigate.
The late 1640s were the years in which de Vlieger perfected the painting of these atmospheric calms and other notable examples, that invite comparison with the present work, include the Squadron of Admiral Tromp, sold in these Rooms, 9 July 2003, lot 41 (private collection), and the Disembarkation (Vienna, Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste), both of which are also unsigned. These works were to provide a decisive influence on the output of the third generation of Dutch marine painters; not only of Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707), but also Jan van de Cappelle (1626-1679), Lieve Verschuur (1634-1686) and Hendrick Dubbels (1621-1707), all of whom are thought to have come into close contact with Simon de Vlieger in the years around 1650.
We are very grateful to Professor Jan Kelch for confirming the attribution after inspection of the original.