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Jan van Goyen, An Estuary with Fishing Boats and Two Frigates

Key facts
Full title An Estuary with Fishing Boats and Two Frigates
Artist Jan van Goyen
Artist dates 1596 - 1656
Date made about 1650-6
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 49.5 × 69.1 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Sir John Heathcoat Amory, with life interest to Lady Amory by whom presented, 1973
Inventory number NG6423
Location Room 19
Collection Main Collection
An Estuary with Fishing Boats and Two Frigates
Jan van Goyen

Huge clouds float across a wide sky, seeming to dwarf everything below – even the two frigates heading way out to sea, sails raised, tall and majestic. Frigates were light warships that protected the giant merchant vessels that were the lifeblood of the new Dutch Republic, reaching out across the world and bringing wealth to the small but powerful nation. Van Goyen has placed them almost centrally, with a clear sweep of water between them and us – it’s as if everything has moved aside to allow them freedom of the waterways.

We don’t know if the painting represents a specific place. It’s probably an amalgamation of small scenes from van Goyen’s many drawings. He worked extremely fast, but speed didn’t prevent him from portraying a poetic vision of the Dutch landscape that holds the gaze and appeals to the imagination.

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