Willem van de Velde, usually so interested in the detailed depiction of individual vessels, seems to be more concerned in this painting with atmosphere and the emotion evoked by a view of the sea in the evening light. The warm glow of a low sun casts the vessels close to us into shadow, leaving them an elegant, rhythmic series of curves and angles, their sails almost translucent against the sky.
The vessel a little way out with a prominent square topsail is a Statenjacht (state yacht), used to transport members of the Chamber of Representatives (States General) and other dignitaries. A puff of smoke from the cannon of a hidden craft signals the arrival of an important visitor to the yacht, but a sense of undisturbed quiet remains – smoke and sound will soon be gone. Men go about their work without hurry, regardless of the beauty of the scene, though one figure stands alone with his back to us, sharing our view and, perhaps, our mood.
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