Van Goyen frequently painted the distinctive view of the Dutch town of Dordrecht. The bold bulk of its main church, the Groote Kerk, with its unfinished spire, dominates the view across the junction of the busy river Maas. He painted it over twenty times from varying distances and in different weather conditions. Here blustery winds push a ferry-boat's sails and whip up the choppy waves which rock the fishermen's boat. The overall brown tonality is freshened by a pale blue sky, glimpsed through the scudding clouds, and enlivened by the bright red coat of a rowing-boat passenger.
This view of Dordrecht dated in 1644 is similar in composition to another version in Brussels which is much larger and painted on canvas. The Brussels view depicts similar but more blustery weather, whipping up the river into choppy waves and buffeting the boats. Like the Walker's painting, it also views Dordrecht from the foreshore of the junction of the Dordtse Kil, a tributary of the Oude Maas (the old channel of the Maas which flows north around Dordrecht) seen in the foreground of the Walker’s picture. The spit of land in the Brussels picture is, however, crowded with many more figures watching a ferry moor than the Walker’s lone man. Another 'View of Dordrecht from the Dordtse Kil', in Washington, is almost the same size (64.7 x 95.9cms.) as the Walker’s view and is also painted on three horizontal wood planks. However, it shows a much calmer view with fewer boats and less human activity. A black chalk sketch, which van Goyen drew on the spot in around 1648, shows that, as was typical of his paintings, he has accurately reproduced the placing of Dordrecht’s key river-front buildings but has exaggerated the distances between them in order to give the horizon a panoramic character.
It shows his mastery in depicting damp blustery clouds and their dispersal of liquid sunlight over the inland waterways that he preferred to paint. Although all the 1644 views focus on the distinctive silhouette on the skyline of Dordrecht’s large Protestant church, the Groote Kerk, van Goyen has enlivened the compositions by depicting diverse dynamic weather conditions and painting a variety of shipping and human activities in the foreground.
This picture has a monochrome light brown tonality, enlivened by patches of blue sky, green river-water reflected onto the Groote Kerk’s tower, and a touch of local colour in the red coat of one of the rowing-boat passengers. This dash of red is made all the more vivid by being the picture’s sole dab of bright colour. The painting’s white ground-layer shows through in places (especially in the sky) as a result of previous abrasion. But van Goyen’s fluid brushwork around the boats and the white highlights skimming the tops of the rippling waves are still in good condition. As the paint surface has become translucent with age, the colour and graining of the wood panel shows through, creating an optical illusion of a ‘pink’ effect in the sky, which may have been intended by the artist.
By 1644 when van Goyen painted this view, the old city of Dordrecht had become a major commercial centre, whose wealthy merchants would have provided a market for the artist’s views. Its trading importance was due particularly to its favourable geographic position at the busiest junction of a number of major inland waterways in the south of the Netherlands. Dordrecht and especially the bulky Groote Kerk, with its unfinished spire, also represented the real and symbolic triumph of the Dutch Reformed Church, for it was in the city that the Church was established after the 180 meetings of the Synod of Dordrecht in 1618-1619.