Jan van de Cappelle

1626 - 1679

Ships in a Calm.

Oil on Canvas, 81.7 x 112 cm
Signed and dated on the boat: IVCapel(1)..3



Private Collection, France;
Sale Piasa Paris, Drouot, 29 June 2012, lot 52 (as c. 1700, Follower of Jan van de Capelle);
Private Collection, United Kingdom.


Artloss Register Certificate S00155028.

Additionnal Information

The emergence of a completely unknown Old Master painting is always exciting. Even more so when it concerns a work by an important and relatively rare artist as Jan van de Cappelle who, together with Willem van de Velde (1633-1707) the younger and Simon de Vlieger (1600/01-1653), is considered  the most important marine painter of the Dutch Golden Age.

Jan van de Cappelle was baptized in Amsterdam on January 25, 1626. He was the son of Franchoys van de Cappelle, the owner of a flourishing crimson dyeworks in Amsterdam. Jan learned the trade and worked in his father’s business, which he later inherited and continued, thus ensuring a large income throughout his life. In February 1653, he married Anna Grotingh, who also came from a wealthy family. Van de Cappelle appears to have lived his entire life in Amsterdam, and in houses that reflect his affluence, for instance on Keizersgracht, along with some of Amsterdam’s richest citizens. In June 1666, during an illness, he had his will drawn up. Although he survived for many years, he seems to have given up painting after 1666. The inventory made after his death states that he had slightly over ninety thousand guilders in cash and bonds (a fortune in those days), as well as six houses, several parcels of land, the dyeworks, and a “pleasure yacht.” He was also was one of the greatest collectors of his time, with nearly two hundred paintings that included works by Simon de Vlieger (9), Jan Porcellis (16), Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), Hercules Seghers (ca. 1580–ca. 1638), and many others. Among the approximately six thousand drawings were works by contemporaries such as Rembrandt (500), Jan van Goyen (400), Hendrick Avercamp, Jan Porcellis, and Simon de Vlieger (1,300).

Painting was very probably not Van de Cappelle’s main occupation, as various documents refer to him successively as “crimson dyer,” “merchant,” and “skillful painter.” In 1654, the Amsterdam painter Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (1621–1674) wrote of his colleague in an album amicorum of the Amsterdam poet and rector of the Gymnasium, Jacob Heyblock, that he “had learned painting for his own pleasure….”. Van de Cappelle may have had no formal training as a painter, but he must have been very familiar with the marines and other paintings of Simon de Vlieger, who worked in Weesp, east of Amsterdam, and with whom he may also have worked for a while. A number of Van de Cappelle’s paintings from around 1650 are inspired to a large extent by works by De Vlieger. The work of Porcellis also seems to have been an influence.

Today, of about seventy-five known marines by Van de Cappelle, half are in museums. The earlier paintings are a cool silver-gray in tone, while brown dominates the later work. In addition to his usually tranquil marines, there are beach scenes and some fifteen less ambitiously conceived serene, silver-white winter landscapes. His marine and winter landscape drawings are extremely rare, although his estate inventory refers to eight hundred drawings by him. Van de Cappelle was probably productive for only a short time. He rarely dated his work, but the paintings he did date were all done between 1649 and 1663. He holds a unique position within marine painting at that time: his best work demonstrates the monumentality and tranquillity characteristic of the so-called “classical” phase of Dutch landscape art, when Jacob van Ruisdael and Philips Koninck aspired to the same goal. In marine painting, Van de Cappelle occupies a place between Simon de Vlieger – his great example – and Willem van de Velde the Younger, the preeminent painter in this genre in the last decades of the century.


No Dutch painter could depict the hazy atmosphere on the water as convincingly as Jan van de Cappelle. Here, as in many of his paintings, a lightly ruffled water surface unfolds beneath an imposing, cloudy sky. In the left foreground, to a large extent in the shadow, a gentleman in a sloop is getting ready to embark the larger ship with lee boards on the far left, probably a Wijdschip, a ship used for inland shipping, or a smak, a sailing ship used in fishing and sailing along the coast but also used as a pleasure yacht. Along this ship, which serves as a repoussoir, the eye of the beholder is drawn towards the middle ground where a states yacht with lee boards lies at anchor. A Dutch flag is flying from the mainmast and a second one is on the poop deck. Its shape is vaguely reflected in the water. To the far right a sloop, a Dutch flag flying from the poop deck, carrying several distinguished gentle­men, navigates towards the shore, where part of a second sloop is sailing. To the far right a bank or shore extends. A sailing boat is moored to the wooden jetty above which some houses can be seen. Towards the  horizon some sailing boats can be distinguished. It can be assumed that Van de Cappelle did not intend to portray an existing spot and that, as with his other marines and winter landscapes, this is an admittedly highly realistic but nonetheless imaginary scene.


With the exception of some brightly coloured accents like the aforementioned flags, the red and blue coats of the men in the sloop on the right and the red coat of a man sitting on the boat to the far left, Van de Cappelle used a subdued palette consisting mainly of cool, silver-grey and brown tints. The palette points towards a date of origin in the early 1650’s. The form of the signature adds confirmation: up to 1650 the painter signed “I V Capel;” in 1650 and 1651 “I V Capelle;” and later “I V Cappelle.” Of the date only the figure ‘3’, can be clearly read, so a date of 1653 seems to be the most likely. 

The composition of the present painting resembles that of A Coast Scene with Passengers Disembarking in the National Gallery, London (inv.no. 2586), which traditionally has also been assigned to the first half of the 1650’s.