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Jan van de Cappelle, A Small Vessel in Light Airs, and Another Ashore

Key facts
Full title A Small Vessel in Light Airs, and Another Ashore
Artist Jan van de Cappelle
Artist dates 1626 - 1679
Date made probably 1650-60
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 34.8 × 48.1 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1871
Inventory number NG865
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Small Vessel in Light Airs, and Another Ashore
Jan van de Cappelle

In this scene of day-to-day life on the muddy shores of the North Sea, Jan van de Cappelle has depicted a virtually windless day. We see a smalschip (a traditional transport vessel), its helmsman doing his best to catch what wind he can by setting the sails out on both sides. But they hang almost limp and the boat makes only the faintest of wakes in the glassy water. A rowing boat carrying two passengers seems to be about to intercept it – perhaps they are being taken out to a bigger vessel anchored in deeper water.

Meanwhile the crewman on the beached boat (a kaag) seems to be pouring something into a basket held up by his colleague. It looks as though they have been fishing for shellfish and are landing their catch. It’s an image of calm and plenty, but there’s also a reminder of the destructive power of the sea: the timbers of a wreck protrude from the mud.

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