We are grateful to Professor Jan Kelch for confirming the attribution, on the basis of photographs, and dating this work to circa 1640. While de Vlieger’s early work of the 1620s and 1630s shows the strong influence of Jan Porcellis, by the 1640s he had evolved his own distinctive style, recognisable for its silvery light, cool palette and strong draughtsmanship, as exemplified in this painting. Arguably the most important Northern maritime painter working in the first half of the seventeenth century, Simon de Vlieger decisively influenced the direction of Dutch marine art, forming a key link between the second and third generations of Dutch marine painters, influencing Willem van de Velde II, who worked in his studio at Weesp, as well as Hendrick Dubbels and Jan van de Cappelle (who owned numerous paintings and more than 1,300 drawings by de Vlieger), who also probably trained in de Vlieger’s studio.
The dating of this work to circa 1640 places it in the period shortly after de Vlieger moved from Delft to Amsterdam in 1638. The tonal style that de Vlieger developed in the 1630s was perfectly suited to rendering the interplay between the choppy seas and expansive grey skies, and fantastical rocky seascapes such as this form a key part of his repertoire at this time. The majority of the picture surface is given over to the sky filled with billowing storm clouds, which cast a dramatic shadow across the foreground, heightening the sense of foreboding in the scene. Breaking through gaps in the clouds, the sun lights up the middleground, highlighting the whites of the waves, the sail on the fishing boat and the jagged rock face of the cliffs. One of the most appealing aspects of de Vlieger’s finest works is the quantity of observational touches that he employed, which impart a particularly lively and engaging realism to his paintings: note for example the dolphins swimming on the crescents of the waves in the foreground and the seagulls dotted across the sky, against the diagonal sheets of rain.