Overview

By the mid-seventeenth century the Dutch were the greatest sea power in the world. Their ships sailed the seven seas, from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean, assuring not only military security, but also wealth. Indeed, their far-reaching trade brought to Dutch shores everything from exotic spices to rare bulbs. The Dutch fleet also satisfied more essential needs. For example, "flutes," Dutch transport ships that regularly sailed the Baltic, often brought lumber from Poland, which was essential not only for building and ship construction, but also for artists' panels such as the one used here.

Simon de Vlieger, who lived and worked in Rotterdam, Delft, and Amsterdam, was one of the most important and influential Dutch marine artists. Active from the 1620s to 1640s, he was the link between the turbulent tonal paintings of his teacher Jan Porcellis and the sun-filled calm images of his student Willem van de Velde the Younger. De Vlieger was a versatile artist who was equally comfortable painting dramatic storms or stately parade pictures, all of which he enlivened with small figures carefully situated within the pictorial context.

De Vlieger knew the sea and the ships that sailed it. He recorded accurately the distinguishing features of the various types of boats--from large warships to small fishing and transport vessels--and set them convincingly in the water. But it was De Vlieger's sensitivity to the atmospheric effects of water and sky along the North Sea that separates him from most other marine painters. No other artist was as effective as he in capturing the subtle ranges of grays and gray-blues found along coastal waters.

De Vlieger's most innovative paintings, including Estuary at Dawn, capture the flavor of daily life along the Dutch coast. In this restrained and sensitive composition, De Vlieger depicted two workers applying pitch to the hull of a ship resting on a sandbar at low tide. Beside them smoke rises from the fire heating the pitch, while above dramatic rays of light break through the vigorously painted clouds. In the background, clouds billow from the sides of a large Dutch ship as it fires a salute. The scene is simple, but the effects of light and atmosphere give the painting a tremendous sense of drama, qualities enhanced by the work's remarkable state of preservation.

(Text by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation, 2000)

Inscription

lower right: S DE VLIEG[ER]

Marks and Labels

CM: unidentified red seal

Provenance

Edward Donner, Hurstbourne Park, Hampshire, England, by 1990; sold 1997 through (Gurr-Johns, London) to NGA.

Exhibition History

1990
Loan for display with permanent collection, National Gallery, London, 1990-1995.
1998
A Collector's Cabinet, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, no. 64, fig. 25.
2000
Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
2000
The Glory of the Golden Age: Dutch Art of the 17th Century, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2000, exhibition catalogue in two volumes, no. 85 (of Painting, Sculpture and Decorative Art catalogue), repro., as Seascape in the Morning.

Bibliography

1998
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. A Collector's Cabinet. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1998: 35, 68, no. 64, fig. 25.
2000
Kiers, Judikje, and Fieke Tissink. The glory of the Golden Age: Dutch art of the 17th century. 2 vols. Edited by Jan Piet Filedt Kok and Bart Cornelis. Vol. 1: Painting, sculpture and decorative art. Exh. cat. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2000: 1:5, no. 85.
2000
National Gallery of Art. Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2000: 36-37, color repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 211, no. 167, color repro.
2007
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr., and Michael Swicklik. "Behind the Veil: Restoration of a Dutch Marine Painting Offers a New Look at Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art and History." National Gallery of Art Bulletin, no. 37 (Fall 2007): 4, fig. 4.

Conservation Notes

The support is a horizontally grained oak panel. According to dendrochronology, the earliest possible creation date for the panel is 1627.[1] All four sides have been beveled, but the bevel is by far the widest along the top edge. The other edges are narrower because the back of the panel has been planed unevenly with a pointed toothing plane. As a result of this uneven planing, the panel is significantly thicker at the top. There is a horizontal split at the top right corner of the back of the panel.

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