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Ships & the Sea

A Calm: A States Yacht under Sail close to the Shore with many other Vessels©

The Dutch Republic depended upon the sea for its trade and fishing industry, and on inland waterways for its transport infrastructure. During the seventeenth century some 400,000 seaworthy vessels were built in the Dutch Republic, and it is estimated that by 1670 the Dutch owned nearly half the total tonnage of European shipping.

Every type of Dutch vessel, from warship to rowing boat, was proudly and accurately depicted in art. The status of a ship painter in the earlier part of the seventeenth century appears to have been considerably higher than that of a landscape painter.

Dutch artists also captured the unique atmosphere of their coasts, estuaries and inland seas. In the 1620s and 1630s the ‘tonal school’ of artists in Haarlem achieved this through a subtle blendingof muted, earth colours, using thin and liquid paint. Salomon van Ruysdael (the uncle of Jacob van Ruisdael) perfected this technique by capturing the effect of dawn light on water (no. 22).

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