A view of the IJ harbour in winter, Amsterdam, with figures skating between the ships, a figure seated on an ice floe in the foreground
signed 'A . smit' (lower left)
oil on panel
26.4 x 33.6 cm.
Gifted to H.Th. Cox (1868-1935), Amsterdam, by the Continental Rail & Water Carriers Conference, probably in 1929 upon Cox’ departure as director of the Hollandsche Stoomboot Maatschappij, thence by descent to the present owner.
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, La vie en Hollande au XVIIe siècle, 11 January - 20 March 1967, no. 373.
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Lot Essay

This hitherto unknown and well preserved painting by Aernout Smit has been in the same collection for almost a hundred years. It depicts a spectacular view of the IJ in winter, with the multitude of masts evidencing Amsterdam’s position as the epicentre of world trade. Under a thin winter air a forest of ships lie still in the sunlit ice, waiting for the frost to lift. Small figures skate between the massive ship's hulls. In the foreground a man rests on a thick ice floe near a hole, in front of a three-master under Dutch flag resting in the frozen waterway. Remnants of snow and frost lay on the sterns, masts and bowsprits, are gently illuminated by the pale sunlight. On the wooden quay near a small building with red shutters a man stands in the cold, looking at a sailor in his boat below the dock.

The frozen Amsterdam harbour may possibly have been rendered from the Nieuwe Stadsherberg. The small building to the right is reminiscent of the ferry commissioner’s office which was located next to the inn. But equally, perhaps what is actually depicted here is one of the so-called ‘Boomhuisjes’ or ‘Wachthuisjes’. These small houses were built on wooden piles in the water and were scattered in the IJ throughout the movable, floating harbour, logging and regulating the port traffic, in order to ensure the security of the harbour when closed at night.

According to Houbraken Aernout Smit studied with Jan Theunisz. Blanckerhoff, who was active in Amsterdam between 1659 and 1666. This would fit with Smit's presumed age, based on a notarial deed of 1667, in which he is described as 'about 26'. In a document of 1663 Smit refers to his profession as being that of a sailor, but in the late 1660s he probably worked in commission for the art dealer Laurens Cornelisz. de Coninck. Smit was strongly influenced by the work of Ludolf Bakhuizen.

Henrij Th. Cox was an intellectual, entrepreneur, lieutenant at sea and a writer. He was the co-founder of several companies in the ports of Amsterdam, such as the Amsterdamsch Havenbedrijf and the Nederlandsche Steenkolen Handelmaatschappij. As was one of the directors of the Hollandsche Stoomboot Maatschappij, the Dutch Steamboat Company, he governed from Amsterdam scheduled shipping services to various British, European and West-African ports. Cox was an avid sailor and a passionate researcher of Napoleon. In 1916 his book Napoleon krijgsgevangen : historie en legende was published. Born in Batavia as the son of a celebrated businessman, Cox moved as a young boy to The Netherlands, where he grew up surrounded by Asian works of art collected by his parents in the Indies. He himself started collecting with the help of connoisseur and collector Frits Lugt and held a particular fondness for maritime subjects. By the end of his lifetime his collection comprised of works by eminent masters of the Dutch Golden Age such as Willem van de Velde, Lieven Verschuier, Willem Kalf, Aert van der Neer, Aelbert Cuyp, Jan Siberechts and Willem Claesz. Heda amongst others.

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