Van Goyen is one of the greatest and most prolific Dutch landscapists of that nation’s Golden Age of painting. Responding to the more “tonalist” art of contemporary Haarlem masters, he developed a personal and enduring artistic identity characterized by beige, browns, and pallid greens, with silvery blue-grey skies. He employed limited architectural structures and recognizable distant city and town views to establish gently diagonal and increasingly parallel planes of space. Open, often cloudy skies preponderate in these compositions, providing an opportunity for the artist to explore effects of light and shadow. Riverboats became a common device, with riverbanks receding to a point that waterways resemble open sea. These features are magnificently demonstrated in this painting, signed on the leeboard of the forward sailing vessel with a VG and dated.
In the foreground of the painting are joined and anchored sailboats sporting the Dutch flag. They are the centre of activity, apparently bearing cargo, with two small rowboats being used for transfer nearby. Along the horizon is visible the distant profile of the city of Dordrecht, which by the 1640s had become a very important mercantile centre in the Dutch republic. In the left distance in the mist can be seen the outline of the Groote Kerk, a large cathedral with an unfinished spire. The horizon is also spotted with windmills. What was called the Merwede, the confluence of waterways created by various floods, offered multiple perspectives for panoramic views.