A Merchantman Firing a Salute

Aernout Smit
1640 – Amsterdam
A Merchantman Firing a Salute
Oil on canvas 46 x 56 cm

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Description
Beneath a vast formation of creamy billowing clouds a heavily armed Dutch merchantman fires a salute. Alarmed by the sudden noise a bunch of seagulls fly up in all directions. The enormous vessel is dangerously close to the shore. Another three-master can be seen in the middle zone and a third is at anchor in the far distance. In the foreground are two transport vessels, probably kaags. The horizon is a coastline with a town. The faint silhouette of a plump tower can be made out.

Aernout Smit was an accomplished marine specialist who took his inspiration from Ludolf Bakhuizen and his teacher Jan Teunisz Blanckerhoff.i His paintings have often been mistaken for works by these artists. Smit indeed also copied works by, for instance Bakhuizen. In a notarial document of 1689 the artist declared that he had copied a view on the IJ on commission for a certain Hendrick Grel.ii

Aernout Smit was a prolific painter and his preserved output spans a wide range of marine subjects. He depicted seas as well as inland waters. His paintings show a great variety of shipping in different weather conditions. His stormy seas with sweeping clouds are spectacular. In his calms with their silvery tonality, of which our painting is a good example, Smit strikes a completely different mood. Smit only very rarely dated his paintings.iii The present evocative calm is therefore important in tracing the artist’s development.

Documentary evidence relating to Smit’s life is scarce. He was probably born in Amsterdam. In a notarial document of 1667 the artist lists his age as “about 26”, which puts his date of birth in 1640/41. The said document reveals that Smit was employed by the art dealer Laurens Cornelisz de Coninck, for whom he presumably painted. According to the eighteenth-century biographer of artists Arnold Houbraken, Smit studied with Jan Teunisz Blanckerhoff, who worked in Amsterdam between 1659 and 1666. In 1688 the artist is mentioned as a member in the Amsterdam painters’ guild records.

Notes
i For a discussion for Bakhuizen’s influence on Smit and an analysis of Smit’s style and motifs, see: G. de Beer, Ludolf Backhuysen: Sein Leben und Werk (1630 - 1708), Zwolle 2002, pp. 192-197.
ii See for this: J. Giltaij & J. Kelch (eds.), Lof der zeevaart. De Hollandse zeeschilders van de 17e eeuw, exh. cat. Rotterdam (Boijmans-Van Beuningen); Berlin (Gemäldegalerie im Bodemuseum) 1996-97, p. 383.
iii Another painting dated 1671, showing four merchantmen scattered across the scene, with smaller vessels, is in a private collection in The Netherlands. A photo and documentation is at the RKD, The Hague (box 596). A marine with shipping before a Mediterranean coast, strongly reminiscent of his teacher Blanckerhoff, in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen (inv. nr. 667) is dated 1678. A late coastal view, dated 1697, was with the Douwes Gallery in 1972 (photo at RKD, The Hague, in box 594).