Depictions of calms, mostly cabinet-sized and highly refined in character, were Willem van de Velde's speciality during his Dutch period. He first treated the theme while still a teenager working in his father's studio, returning to it repeatedly during the 1650s and 60s with ever increasing authority. His interest in the subject was most likely triggered by Simon de Vlieger, under whom Van de Velde studied in Weesp around 1650, and whose masterly rendering of atmospheric effects and light conditions must have had a lasting influence on the younger artist.
Van de Velde's command of the genre is vividly illustrated by the present work that has been dated by Professor Jan Kelch to circa 1665. A kaag and a fishing buss are shown at low tide in afternoon light. Their arrangement - though seemingly casual - is meticulously thought out to convey a graceful sense of spatial harmony and monumentality. These effects are heightened by the absence of any wind to disturb the sails or the surface of the water which enable the artist to execute the boats and water in sharp focus beneath a cloud filled sky.
After Van de Velde's move to London in 1672 he rarely painted calms again. The majority of his output in England was devoted to specific representations of ships and naval events and anyway his English patrons tended to prefer storm and shipwreck scenes over tranquil seascapes.
Michael Robinson listed two versions of the present composition: one, that he regarded as an oil sketch, sold in the De Ridder sale in Paris (2 June 1924, lot 83), and another 'very probably a nineteenth century copy', last recorded in a collection in Lucerne (see M.S. Robinson, The Paintings of the Willem van de Veldes, London, 1990, I, pp. 539-40, no. 594, illustrated, and no. 594).
We are grateful to Professor Jan Kelch for confirming the attribution after inspection of the original.