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Jan van de Cappelle, A River Scene with a Large Ferry

Key facts
Full title A River Scene with a Large Ferry and Numerous Dutch Vessels at Anchor
Artist Jan van de Cappelle
Artist dates 1626 - 1679
Date made about 1665
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 122 × 154.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
Inventory number NG967
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A River Scene with a Large Ferry
Jan van de Cappelle

The boats crowded together on either side of Jan van de Cappelle’s painting are tough, working craft, made to carry goods and people along the coastline and the many waterways of Holland. Although the vessels are not glamorous in themselves, van de Cappelle has exaggerated the height of the masts and bathed the graceful folds of sails in warm sunlight to give the image its majesty. Its haunting quality comes from the stillness, the soft, muted colours and the luminous reflections.

The artist has almost hidden the vessels themselves in shadow, but they are crowded with incident and activity for the patient eye to find. Like other marine artists of the time, van de Cappelle painted incidents, characters and objects that might be unfamiliar to a modern audience but which would have been understood instantly by a contemporary one. But perhaps his real concern was the painting of atmosphere, with quiet water and the abstract beauty of changing light on masts, ropes and sails.

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