Hitherto only two works, both grisailles, by De Vrij are known: one a signed and dated '1665' panel in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin; the other signed and on panel, with Haboldt & Co, Paris, 2000-1. The composition in Berlin shows strong similarities with the present lot. The man-o'-war to the right is in both paintings depicted from the same angle, as well as the roughness of the sea is handled in a similar way.
Olfert de Vrij belonged to the elite of Hoorn and was active in local government. He practised painting only as a hobby since he is not documented in any record as an artist. Like his contemporaries from Hoorn, Caspar van den Bos and Pieter Coopse, he distinguished himself from the other so called 'penschilders' by his use of a fine brush instead of a pen. The present lot should thus not be regarded as a 'penschilderij', but as a grisaille painting. This unusal technique, working with different shades of grey, like in watercolour, is typical for the artists from Hoorn.
In May 1662, Ludolf Backhuysen rented a house in the harbour quarter in Hoorn, just a few doors from De Vrij (see J.R. Brozius, 'Marineschilder Ludolf Bakhuysen in Hoorn', Oud Hoorn, XV, 1993, 4, pp. 139-41). In 1667, he is recorded again in Hoorn and in 1680 both De Vrij and Melchior d'Hondecoeter were asked to be guardians of Backhuysen's daughter. It has been speculated that a master-pupil relationship ensued, however, it is clear that De Vrij was inspired not only by Backhuysen but also by Willem van de Velde II.
We are grateful to Mr. John Brozius for suggesting the attribution to the artist on the basis of a photograph, and for his help in cataloguing this lot (written communication, 2 October 2006). We also wish to thank Dr. Jeroen Giltaij and Dr. Friso Lammertse for confirming the attribution on the basis of a photograph (verbal communication, 2 October 2006).