PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTOR (LOTS 29, 30, 31, 53, 61, 62, 63)
The composition is ordered and balanced; the horizontals of the distant horizon and the small craft are offset by their steady masts reaching upwards towards the sky. The view is from the water's edge, looking across the shallows to a number of figures and vessels going about their simple, daily routines. Rays of sunshine beam brightly from behind thick and billowing clouds in the center of the sky, drawing attention deep into the picture plane while at the same time illuminating the outlines of a low-flying birds and the fins of a few porpoises in the foreground. Between the jetty at left, and the sailing ship to the right, there appears one large ship firing a gun, causing the only commotion within this otherwise tranquil scene.
This panel is remarkable for the mastery with which Van de Cappelle depicts the atmospheric effects of light and water, from the way he wondrously renders nature's rays, to the way he captures the reflection of the boat at center with just a few strokes of a wet paintbrush. A fresh and radiant light softens the forms in the scene and illuminates the gentle peaks of the waves that ripple across the picture plane and provide a watery mirror upon which the various figures and vessels faintly reflect. The golden tones coloring the sails in the foreground, the jetty at left, and some of the upper clouds pleasingly complement the sheen of silvery-blues in the distant background and expanse above, while the more saturated blue in the upper sky appears again as a soft plume of smoke billowing rising from the ships near center. By balancing tones throughout, Van de Capelle provides a visual unity to the composition, seamlessly linking the foreground to the distant middle-ground, to the cloud-filled sky.
Jan van de Cappelle was a wealthy businessman who worked under his father helping to manage the family’s successful dyeworks in Amsterdam. He did not inherit the family business until 1674, later in his life, which meant he likely had ample time as a younger man for his favored hobbies of painting and drawing, primarily focusing on marine scenes, although he also is known to have executed a few winter landscapes. Without the need to secure other means to earn a living, he was able to turn to his artistic craft at a loving and leisurely pace. It seems likely he was inspired by the views seen from his recreational yacht that he sailed around the waters of Amsterdam and moored in the Oude Stadsherbergs. He painted and sketched throughout his entire life, and even though his output diminished after becoming ill in the late 1660s, an unfinished canvas left on his easel at the time of his death in 1679 suggests that he continued with his passion until his very last days.
Though an artist of technical brilliance, Van de Cappelle seems to have been largely self-taught, for there is no evidence to suggest that he received any formal training whatsoever. Further supporting this idea is a glowing accolade found on a drawing that Van de Capelle submitted to Jacob Heyblocq’s Album Amicorum, written by his friend and fellow artist, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout: “In praise of the art of Johannes van de Cappelle, who taught himself to paint out of his own desire.”1 Van de Cappelle’s early works though, exude the influence of his close acquaintance, Simon de Vlieger, a marine painter who spent most of the last years of his career in Weesp, a town near Amsterdam, and it seems probable that he received some sort of guidance from the elder artist.
In addition to his success as a businessman and an artist, Van de Capelle is known to have assembled a notable collection of art, with over 200 paintings and nearly 7,000 drawings by a wide-range of artists, including 798 sketches from his own hand. The discriminating eye used to render his own detailed compositions was also used to develop and curate a collection of Northern Art that, in its breadth and importance, even rivals some today. He owned works by Rembrandt van Rijn, Hendrick Avercamp, Hendrick Goltzius, Jan van Goyen, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Albrecht Dürer, Hercules Seghers and Frans Hals, among many others. His collection also included a number of works by marine painters, such as Jan Porcellis and Jan van Goyen, Willem van de Velde the Younger, as well as over 1300 drawings by Simon de Vlieger.2
In Van de Cappelle’s lifetime, the Dutch Republic reached the height of its power as a global empire, and works of art depicting the sea and ships were in high demand, particularly after the Treaty of Münster in 1648, which ended the war between Spain and the Dutch Republic. Because he was not a professional artist nor a member of the Guild of Saint Luke in Amsterdam, Van de Cappelle was not permitted, in the strictest sense, to sell his own paintings to the collecting public. This did not prevent him, though, from witnessing success within the thriving art market, for he must have sold works during his lifetime, judging by the fact that only five paintings of his own were recorded in his home at the time of his death. On the one hand, these sales could have occured under the rather lax eye of the guild. On the other, they could have been sold through a dealer or one of his artist-friends who were members of the Guild and who were allowed to act as agents on his behalf. Van de Capelle had a nearly unlimited supply of funds, and it is not out of the question that he exchanged some of his own paintings to acquire works by other masters for his own collection.3
Understanding the chronology and phases of Van de Cappelle’s works is rather difficult because few of his paintings are dated and there does not appear to be a clear stylistic development. The same complex and beautifully resolved compositions with low horizon lines and a flawless understanding of the appearance of water and of boats that appear in his earliest works, including his earliest dated painting (1645) completed at the age of twenty, is found again in his later output after 1660. Still, some general observations can be made. His works of the late 1640s often include crowded parades of formal ships, as seen in Shipping in a Calm at Flushing with a States General Yacht Firing a Salute of 1649 at the J. Paul Getty Museum.4 Around 1650, he seems to shift his pictorial approach, as he transitioned to more simplified and uncrowded compositions with fewer vessels, uncomplicated skies, and a shore or shallow water in the foreground. His tonal phase also develops during this period, as does his experimentation with perspective, with the inclusion of larger boats in the foreground that diminish in size as the eye moves toward the horizon, as is the case in the present work with the single vessel sailing away at center. Van de Cappelle’s later works seem to be characterized by a more vibrant and colorful palette. The present work probably dates to the 1650s, falling between A River Scene with Dutch Vessels Becalmed of circa 1650 in the National Gallery of Art, London5 and A State Yacht and Other Craft in Calm Water of circa 1660 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.6 While a firm date might remain elusive for the present lot, what is certain is that it is a visual testament to how Van de Capelle stood apart from his peers as an exceptionally talented and original painter of marines.
1. See Russell, in Literature, p. 10 and 48.
2. For a more detailed description of his inventory, ibid., pp. 48-57.
3. Ibid., 13
4. Oil on panel, 69 by 92.1 cm., inv. no. 96.PB.7. See The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 7th ed., Los Angeles 2007, p. 115, reproduced.
5. Oil on canvas, 112 by 153.5 cm., inv. no. NG4456. See C. Baker and T. Henry, The National Gallery: Complete Illustrated Catalogue, London 1995, p. 93, reproduced.
6. Oil on panel, 69.9 by 92.4 cm., inv. no. 12.31. See W. Liedtke, Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2007, vol. 1, pp. 120–23, cat. no. 26, reproduced plate 26.
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