Aernout Smit (Amsterdam 1640/41 – 1710 Amsterdam)
Ships in Distress off a Rocky Coast
Oil on canvas, 73.5 x 98.9 cm (28.9 x 28.9 inch); presented in a dark brown frame with gilt slip
Signed lower right on the bar: ‘A. Smit’
Jules Porgès (1839–1921), Paris; presumably by descent to his daughter, Henriette Hélène, Marquise de La Ferté-Meun (1878-1946); private collection, Stuttgart, Germany; SØR Rusche Collection, Germany
~ H.-J. Raupp (ed.), Niederländische Malerei des. 17. Jahrhunderts der SØR Rusche-Sammlung, vol. 3, Landschaften und Seestücke, Münster/Hamburg/London 2001, pp. 244–47, cat. no. 64, reproduced in colour;
~ W. Pijbes, M. Aarts, M. J. Bok et al., At Home in the Golden Age, exh. cat., Zwolle 2008, p. 130, cat. no. 144, reproduced in colour.
At Home in the Golden Age, Rotterdam, Kunsthal Museum, 9 February – 18 May 2008, cat. no. 144
Aernout Smit was born in Amsterdam, where he spent his whole life.1 He is recorded by the artists’ biographer Arnold Houbraken as having been a pupil of Jan Theunisz Blanckerhoff, who was active in Amsterdam between 1659 and 1666. Before he successfully took up painting, Smit had worked as a sailor himself, still describing himself as a ‘varensgezel’ at the time of his marriage in 1663. He was first mentioned as a painter in a document by the art dealer Laurens Cornelisz Conincks. Smit lived on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, and later in the Reestraat. When he died, in 1710, he was living on the corner of the Vijzelstraat and the Kerkstraat.
Smit specialised in the genre of the marine, in which he became hugely successful, no doubt helped by his intimate knowledge of the sea and ships, gathered during his own years as a sailor. He was strongly influenced by the work of Ludolf Backhuysen, who may also have taught him.
Paintings by Smit can be found in many of the world’s leading museums, including the Staatliches Museum in Schwerin, the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe; the Musée Dobrée in Nantes, the Nasjonalgalleriet in Oslo, the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg, the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen and in Schloss Oranienburg, among others. The present work can be compared to Smit’s Shipwreck off a Rocky Coast which is preservd in the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Hamburg (fig.).2
Around the beginning of the twentieth century this marine was owned by the fabulously rich industrialist and diamond merchant Jules Porgès (1839–1921). In Paris, he lived in the Hôtel Porgès, a huge mansion on Avenue Montaigne, located where previously Prince Napoleon-Jérome Bonaparte had lived. Here the Porgès art collection was housed, including works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and Claude. Porgès also owned a castle in Rochefort-en-Yvelines, that had previously belonged to the De La Rochefoucault family.
1. For the artist, see I.H. van Eeghen, ‘Het Amsterdamse Sint Lucasgilde in de 17de eeuw’, Jaarboek Amstelodamum 61 (1969), pp. 65-102 and A. Jager, ‘Galey-schilders’ en ‘dosijnwerck’: de productie, distributie en consumptive van goedkope historiestukken in zeventiende-eeuws Amsterdam, s.l. 2016, pp. 340-42.
2. Oil on canvas, 89.5 x 147 cm, inv. no. 1877; Jan Lauts, Katalog alte Meister bis 1800, Karlsruhe 1966, vol. I, p. 282, no. 1877.