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A versatile painter and draftsman, Bruegel was commissioned to produce 11 drawings of sailing vessels by the print publisher Hieronymous Cock, who turned them over to his stable of engravers to reproduce. Cock had an exclusive contract with Bruegel for such work.
When Cock died in 1570, his publishing business was taken over by one of his engravers, Philippe Galle and his son Theodor, whose reissue of Bruegel's Sailing Vessels attested to the enduring popularity of these subjects in the maritime Netherlands.
Morris Goodman; given to the John Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis, Indiana, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, in 1951.