The composition of this unpublised work relates closely to a painting in a private collection (Knowsley Hall, near Liverpool), that is part of a set of four large canvases depicting key episodes from the Four Days Battle (see M.S. Robinson, A Catalogue of the Elder and the Younger Willem van de Velde I, Greenwich, 1990, pp. 133-38, nos. 424 1-4). The battle, fought in June 1666, was the first test of the Dutch fleet fitted out under the commmand of Admiral Michiel de Ruyter after the severe defeat they suffered to the English at the Battle of Lowestoft in 1665. The English fleet was initially divided and suffered losses that forced them into retreat on the third day. However, on the fourth day, the English fleet was again united by Prince Rupert's return, which averted a serious defeat of the English, both fleets having to return to refit.
This is the final episode from the series, depicting Dutch ships returning to Goeree after the battle with their prizes. The large ship on the left is the Wassenaer, commanded by Captain Ruth Maximiliaen, bearing the ensign horizontally over her stern, of the English ship Convertine that she captured. The ship on the far right, viewed from the port quarter, is the damaged flagship Delft. Some captured English ships can be seen in the right background and have been identified from the Knowsley picture as the Swiftsure, the Loyal George and the Convertine.
Robinson suggested that the Knowsley pictures may have been commissioned by a Dutch patron in around 1690 which would point to a similar dating for the present work. It has been suggested that this painting may be by the hand of Adriaen van Diest (1655-1704) who was active in the Van de Velde studio at this time and often painted soaring skies with dark smoke much in the same manner as in the present work.