Billowing clouds sweep across the sky in Jan van Goyen's engaging portrayal of the lively waterways near Dordrecht. While sailboats and dinghies filled with men and women come and go, the most active elements of the painting are the shifting patterns of light and shade passing over this watery domain. Van Goyen exploited these atmospheric qualities not only through his quick and fluid brushwork, but also in the way he patterned his composition by silhouetting foreground figures and their boats against sunlit waters beyond, and by juxtaposing the distant city profile against the white clouds. While Van Goyen clearly viewed Dordrecht from the banks of the river Merwede, the essence of the painting is not topography but the character of the air and human life in the confluence of rivers surrounding this important and historic Dutch city.
Over the course of his long career, Van Goyen painted about 70 views of Dordrecht and its environs. This work, executed in the 1650s, is likely one of the last. The thick and vigorous application of paint is typical of his work from that time, as is the large compositional element of the ferryboat with its billowing sail and the strong contrasts of light and dark.
lower right on the bow of the boat: V G 165[illegible numeral]
(Sale, Amsterdam, 24 September 1777, no. 43); Vermeulen. (sale, Amsterdam, 11 July 1798, no. 38); Gruyter. S. Scheikévitch [1842-1908], Paris; (sale, Frederik Muller & Cie, Amsterdam, 30 April 1907, no. 82, as Vue de Dordrecht). (Trotti & Co., Paris); half-share sold July 1908 to (Knoedler & Co., New York); purchased 22 December 1908 by William A. Clark [1839-1925], New York, as Shipping Scene; bequest April 1926 to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.
- The Hudson-Fulton Celebration, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1909, no. 19.
- Romance and Reality: Aspects of Landscape Painting. For the Benefit of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Wildenstein & Co., New York, October 1978, no. 33.
- The William A. Clark Collection: An exhibition marking the 50th Anniversary of the installation of The Clark Collection at The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1978, catalogue without checklist.
- The William A. Clark Collection: Treasures of a Copper King, Yellowstone Art Center, Billings, Montana; Montana Historial Society, Helena, 1989, unnumbered checklist.
- Antiquities to Impressionism: The William A. Clark Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2001-2002, catalogue without checklist.