Although probably the most important Dutch marine painter of the first half of the seventeenth century, little is known of de Vlieger's early career, although his paintings of the 1620s and 1630s reveal a clear debt to Jan Porcellis. By the 1640s he had evolved his own style, recognisable for its silvery light, cool palette and strong draughtsmanship. De Vlieger formed a 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 probably also worked there.
Dr. Jan Kelch, for whose assistance we are grateful, dates this painting to circa 1647-8. That places it contemporaneously with the Squadron of Admiral Maarten van Tromp preparing to make sail sold in these Rooms, 9 July 2003, lot 41 (£878,850); this would accord well, given the notable similarity of the frigate making ready to sail from the pier in the present lot with that in the depiction of Admiral van Tromp's flagship Aemilia in the latter picture. In addition, the light, airy atmosphere and tones of the sky, sea and sails, as well as the able, confident handling of paint, are all typical of this period of de Vlieger's maturity, readily displaying the stylistic advances that were reflected in his followers' works.
One of the most appealing aspects of de Vlieger's best works is the quantity of observational touches that he employed, and that impart a particularly lively and engaging realism to his paintings. These include here, for example, the bargeman reaching up with his boathook to pull his vessel alongside the near frigate, the line of floats attached to the buoy being pulled in by the fisherman from the rowing-boat, or the yardsmen preparing to lower the mainsail of the frigate at the pier. These are complemented by a close attention to naturalistic details, for example the increased angle of the boats reacting to the stiffer breeze in the more open waters near the horizon, and the drift of smoke from the salute.
The impression of realism achieved is underpinned by a carefully thought out composition, in which distance is defined by the careful placement of boats at stages all the way from foreground to background, linked by alternating bands of light and shadow on the water, from the dark foreground that leads in the eye, to the palest silver on the horizon. In order to preserve the compositional balance, the size of the frigate on the left of the picture is countered not just by the foreground boats and the jetty, but also by the massing of cloud formations on the right, contrasting with the clear sky behind the ship. These two groups are deliberately spaced on either side of the clear view to the horizon in the centre of the picture, which creates an avenue leading the eye into the distance, a device that de Vlieger would particularly pioneer in his later parade pictures.