Samuel Scott's masterly work shows the Thames at Rotherhithe, on the south bank, with John James's church of St Mary (1716) and its adjacent wharves and houses visible under the bowsprit of the yacht on the right (Christopher Jones, Master of the Mayflower is buried in the churchyard). Rotherhithe, at the time, was the centre of the Baltic timber trade and it provided a deep anchorage for large East India Company vessels and other ships. The ship in the centre is a cat bark unloading timber, most probably to be used for masts and spars, and further left is a smaller merchantman also laden with timber. The yacht to the right of the painting, with a carved and gilt lion figurehead is a merchant vessel.
This painting can be compared to 'A Danish timber bark getting under way', signed and dated Saml Scott 1736 (in the National Collection at Greenwich) and probably commissioned by William, 3rd Earl Fitzwilliam. The Danish timber bark to the right of this composition is almost a mirror image (with a different arrangement of sails) of the bark in the work offered above. There is a drawing for the 1736 composition in the collection of the National Maritime Museum and it is likely, therefore, that Scott relied on this when he revived the subject of the 1736 painting twenty years later. The almost-square format of both works suggests that they were intended to fit over a mantelpiece or door, gracefully reminding their owners of the maritime trade that was building England's prosperity in the mid-eighteenth century.
Samuel Scott, born in London in 1701/2 was, with Peter Monamy, one of the two principal English marine painters in the first generation which followed the van de Veldes. His earliest sea painting dates from 1726 and his first recorded commission came in 1732, when he was invited by the East India Company to "embellish with ships" six views of their settlements which were being executed by George Lambert, destined for the Court Room of East India House in Leadenhall Street. From that year on he painted many views of shipping on the Thames, reflecting the interests of the East India Company and other patrons whose wealth depended on the trade that flowed in and out of the great artery of London.
Scott's early marine paintings were influenced by the works of Willem van de Velde (II) (1633-1707). Some of his earliest paintings were commissioned by Admiral Vernon in 1739. These were so well received that other commissions for the so called 'War of Jenkin's Ear' (1739) and the 'War of the Austrian Succession' (circa 1748 in the National Collection at Greenwich) soon followed. Other patrons included the famous naval families of Anson and Montagu. His final naval scenes date from the Seven Years' War (1756-63).
From the mid-1740s, Scott produced views of London and the Thames, based on meticulous drawings, providing some of the finest surviving records of the mid-eighteenth century city. Scott's interest in London pre-dated Canaletto's arrival in the capital in 1746. He was elected a Governor and Custodian of the Foundling Hospital in 1746 and, in 1755, was a member of the committee which proposed the foundation of the Royal Academy. Scott exhibited at the Society of Artists and the Free Society, as well as one work at the newly-founded Royal Academy, 'A View of the Tower of London, supposed on His Majesty's Birthday' in 1771. He died in Bath in 1772 and his extensive collection of old master paintings was sold at auction the following year.