Executed during Pillement's first stay in Portugal, this view is clearly based on the landscape around the mouth of the River Tagus; for comparison, see the similar View of the River Tagus with Fishermen pulling in their Nets, dated 1782, in the collection of the Conde de Alferrarede (catalogue of the exhibition, Jean Pillement e o paisagismo em Portugal no século XVIII, Lisbon, 1996, p. 104, no. 23), or the Shipping of the Tagus, also of 1782 (P. Mitchell, 'Jean Pillement Revalued', Apollo, CXVII, January-June 1983, p. 46, fig. 1, 58.5 x 81.3 cm., 'Pillement's mastery of pastel is seen here on an unusually large scale.').
Born in Lyons, Pillement was one of the most widely travelled artists of his age. He left France for Madrid in 1745 at the age of seventeen and visited Lisbon before spending the 1750s in London. Passing through Paris in 1761, he made rapid visits to Turin, Rome and Milan before turning north again, spending the years 1763-4 in Vienna and 1765-7 in Warsaw as a court painter to King Stanislaus III Augustus. Pillement returned to London, selling seventy of his landscapes at Christie's on 13 April 1774, and revisited Paris in 1778 before going through Avignon to the Iberian peninsula. He was in Portugal in 1780-6, during which period he founded a school of drawing, at Oporto, and may have been in Spain in 1786-9. His last years were spent in Pezenas and Lyons where he died at the age of eighty in poverty, a victim of the decline of French rococo taste in the aftermath of the Revolution.
Initally a decorative draughtsman, especially of chinoiseries, Pillement turned to landscape painting while in England in the 1750s in response to local demand. The work which he produced in Portugal in the 1780s, when he also extended his range to include estuary and harbour views, is generally regarded as the peak of his achievement, indeed Mitchell, op. cit., p. 49, wrote that 'I believe that if one substituted the name Vernet for Pillement in such majestic works as [the Shipping on the Tagus, above], there are many who would be deceived. In this large pastel of 1782, Pillement's sense of light and atmosphere is impressive and one cannot dispute that he was the most important artist to paint landscape in pastel during the century' (see also, D. Wakefield, French Eighteenth-Century Painting, London, 1984, p. 161; and Zafran, catalogue of the exhibition, The Rococo Age. French Masterpieces of the Eighteenth Century, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, 1983, p. 162). Pillement's style has often been related to that of Vernet and, as Peter Mitchell went on to observe, in many ways 'Pillement plays Guardi to Vernet's Canaletto' (loc. cit.). However, the influence of seventeenth-century Dutch painting, evident throughout Pillement's painted oeuvre, is particularly clear in the Tagus views as Benedict Nicolson observed in his article 'Frivolity and Reason at Burlington House', The Burlington Magazine, CX, no. 779, February 1968, p. 62).