Willem van de Velde the Younger
Leiden 1633 – 1707 London
An English Galliot with other Vessels close to the Shore
Oil on canvas 62.5 x 75 cm
Signed lower right, on one the piece of wood: “W.V.Velde J [round letters]”
Possibly Sir Thomas Sebright, Beechwood, Boxmoor, Herts, 1857
With M. Asscher, London, 1930s (according to a photograph in the Witt Library, London) With Arthur Tooth, London, from whom purchased from by Colnaghi’s, London, 18 March 1937, with Zatsenstein
Ceded by Colnaghi’s to Matthiesen, 22 March 1951
With Arthur Tooth and Sons, London, 1954, where purchased by the previous owner’s parents
Private collection, United Kingdom, until 2018
With Bijl-Van Urk Master Paintings, Alkmaar (NL), 2019
Coastal scenes with calm seas or light breezes in sunny circumstances are the most characteristic works in the oeuvre of Willem van de Velde the Younger (Leiden 1633-London 1707), undoubtedly the most talented marine painter of his time. This canvas is an excellent example, and G.F Waagen’s remark, when he described the painting in 1857 is fully applicable: ‘Warm and clear in tone, and of masterly treatment’.1
Although this type of painting is generally referred to as a calm, this scene is in fact a very vivid scene, carefully directed by the artist. The backdrop is a wide coastal water, at low tide. As a result, some vessels lie on dry sand. The sky is partly clouded, sunshine comes from the left, a light breeze gently stirs the sails. Just like on a stage, the action takes place on various levels. The main show is in the centre: an English galliot, a cargo ship seen on the port side, mainsail and topsail set. Immediately behind it, partly hidden by the galliot, lie two other coastal cargo ships, a hoy (similar to a galliot, but without the topsail) and another vessel, probably also a galliot, of which only part of the bow is visible. A muddy beach and two men in a boat, handling a line connected to an anchor, occupy the foreground. They give more depth to the scene and their action creates a diagonal line from the anchor to the top of the galliot. Farther away, the third plan is occupied by, from left to right, a royal yacht firing a salute, a ship’s barge on her port side pulling away and a fishing pink on a spit of land. The way in which the yacht is depicted is reminiscent of the facility that is so characteristic of Van de Velde's drawings. This also applies to the two ships in the distance, on the far left. The coastline on the horizon is slightly elevated on the far right. In addition to the different types of ships, the scene is given extra liveliness by all kinds of human activities, such as the figures in the boat in the foreground, one of which is wearing a bright red jacket, and the men busy aboard the galliot in the middle.
There are hardly any indications as to the exact place Van de Velde had in mind here. A wide estuary like this could be found in many places on the English coast. The low hill on the right offers insufficient evidence for determining the topographical situation. But Van de Velde was probably not concerned with the recording of a specific location, but with the ships on the wide, flat surface of the water and the way the scene is lighted by the sun.
Van de Velde’s calms
Coastal views with various small vessels form the lion's share of Van de Velde’s total oeuvre. It was a type of marine in which he excelled, although he also painted numerous impressive stormy sea pieces. The painting discussed here fits into a long series, each time with different, usually small vessels on an almost ripple-free water. More than his father, who sailed the seas of Northern Europe with the Dutch war fleet, the younger Van de Velde immersed himself in ships visible from the shore, smaller in size than warships, with slack-hanging sails, on which the sunlight reflected. This type of marine was not entirely new. Van de Veldes' teacher Simon de Vlieger (1601-1653) was famous for his beach scenes, and Jan van de Cappelle (1624-1679) masterfully recorded the bustle of inland vessels in a harbour. Willem van de Velde, in his turn, brought more colour and space into his coastal views, and there is more blue in his high skies. In many paintings the soft light of the sun produces a subtle play of light and shadow on the pleated and patched sails of his vessels. The usual view is that especially in the Dutch period of the Van de Veldes there was a great demand for such calms, with a staffage of everyday vessels, such as the kaag and the wijdschip. Most of these paintings were probably not made for a specific client, but were delivered from stock to visitors of the studio.
A calm from Van de Velde's Dutch period: A kaag and other vessels off a coast near Den Helder, c. 1655, oil on panel, 40.6x52 cm. Kassel Gemäldergalerie Alte Meister.
In the period after 1672, when the Van de Velde studio had moved to England, the taste of English customers prevailed. They had a preference for more spectacular scenes, ships in need in stormy weather. That may be true in general, but there were plenty of exceptions, again according to the wishes of some customers. This painting and other similar works from after 1672 show that among the art buyers in England there were indeed people who preferred paintings of simple vessels on quiet coastal waters. In order to please his new clientele, Van de Velde replaced the Dutch inland navigation vessels with similar English vessels, the typical English galliots we see in this painting. And although the landscape does not have many details, one can well imagine that it is the Thames estuary at low tide that we see here. His signature also betrays that this painting originates from Van de Velde’s English period. It is signed on a plank in the lower right corner: W. V. Velde J. From around 1680 Willem van de Velde started to sign his paintings with ‘W V Velde J’ or variants, adding the ‘J’(Jonge), showing that he now regarded himself as an artist with his own personality who had outgrown the old studio trade name of ‘WVVelde’, which had been in use for 30 years, for products of both Van de Veldes.2 This corresponds to the date Michael S. Robinson suggested for this painting: c. 1685.3 There is no doubt that this is a generic seascape and not a specific ship or event (such as a launch or the departure of the fleet). The owners or masters of the ships in the foreground did not belong to the class that had their own ship depicted in a ship’s portrait. The first owner must have bought the painting from the studio stock, and apparently there was more interest in this image. This can be deduced from the many other versions of this painting. Another, almost identical version of this painting was in the collection of D. Katz in Dieren, in 1937. According to Michael S., Robinson it was painted ‘perhaps by the Van de Velde studio, with little help from the master’. According to Michael S. Robinson it was painted ‘perhaps by the Van de Velde studio, with little help from the master’. Horst Gerson noted that the maker was ‘perhaps an English follower’. In addition, there are several copies with small variations, either made by the studio or by early eighteenth-century maritime artists, such as Peter Monamy and Charles Brooking.4 These copies and imitations indicate that the appreciation for such paintings was mainly due to the way in which a maritime landscape is depicted, regardless of the exact identity of the ships depicted. Of all these versions, the painting described here is the primal version, superior in quality compared to the variants. The signature in the lower right-hand corner proves that Willem van de Velde also saw it this way.
Willem van de Velde the Younger, marine painter The two Willem van de Veldes, father and son, came from a family of inland bargemen in Leiden. One year after the son’s birth, in 1634, they moved to Amsterdam, in those days the most important port of Europe and a centre of the arts, including maritime print making and painting. Van de Velde the Elder (1611-1693), a talented self-taught draughtsman, created a niche for himself by making socalled pen paintings, time consuming works, mainly sold to a wealthy clientele. The training of his son consisted of drawing lessons at home and a training period (1650-1653) in the studio of Simon de Vlieger (1601-1653) in Weesp, near Amsterdam. Around the middle of the 1650s father and son worked together in their studio in Amsterdam, producing pen paintings and oil paintings. The drawings made at sea by the Elder, served as documentation for both artists. The year 1672 was a turning point in the careers of both Van de Veldes. In that year, known in the Netherlands as the 'Disaster Year', the Dutch Republic was in danger of being wiped off the map by a simultaneous attack from the seaside, by the English and the French, and from the landside, by a French army and by some German princes. While Louis XIV’s army was less than twenty miles from Amsterdam, the Dutch had something else on their minds than buying paintings. Some, such as Johannes Vermeer, went bankrupt, others opted for emigration. Both Van de Veldes gratefully accepted an invitation from Charles II of England, even though their homeland was at war with that king. But the regular ferry to Harwich continued as usual. In those days, war was not yet an allencompassing situation. The king offered the Van de Veldes not only an annual pension and numerous commissions, but also a studio in the Queen's House, in Greenwich. They lived there until the beginning of the 1690s, when they moved to Westminster. Charles II had died in the meantime, his brother and successor James II was chased away by his Dutch son-in law William of Orange. No royal support was to be expected from him, but in the meantime the studio was so successful that that royal protection was no longer necessary. By moving to England, Willem van de Velde had established his name as the greatest marine painter of his time. He became the main inspiration for the English maritime painting school of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many English marine painters, from Charles Brooking to William Turner, owed a debt to this Dutch artist.
02 12 2019
1 G.F. Waagen, Galleries and Cabinets of Art, 1857, p. 330.
2 Remmelt Daalder, Van de Velde & Son. Marine Painters (Leiden 2016), p. 74, 175.
3 Michael S. Robinson, A Catalogue of the Paintings of the Elder and Younger Willem van de Velde, 2 vols, London 1990, vol. II, pp. 702-3, no. 457 (1), 702.
4 Robinson, Van de Velde Paintings: no. 457 (p. 703 perhaps by the Van de Velde studio, with little help from the master), no. 458 (p. 703), nr. 659 (p. 699, perhaps a copy by Peter Monamy), nr. 460 (p. 707, perhaps a copy by Charles Brooking), nr. 461-1 (p. 700, probably a studio copy), no. 461-2 (p. 700).
Possibly G. Waagen, Galleries and Cabinets of Art, London 1857, p. 330 Possibly C. Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des 17. Jahrhunderts, 10 vols., Esslingen & Paris 1907-28, vol. 7, no. 389, p. 106 M. S. Robinson, A catalogue of the paintings of the Elder and Younger Willem van de Velde, 2 vols., London 1990, vol. 2, pp. 702-3, no. 457 (1) Below an azure sky with billowing clouds a galliot and two other vessels are hauled up onto the beach. In the middle zone is a fishing pink on a spit of sand and another on the extreme right. To the left we see a sloop being rowed to a royal yacht with all her sails set, firing a salute. Two bigger ships, three-masters, can be made out in the far distance. A coastline with sloping dunes stretches out at right.
Van de Velde’s calms arguably constitute his greatest and, certainly, his most evocative contribution to marine art. The present example stems from his maturity. Dating Van de Velde’s paintings precisely is an arduous task but the English flags readily imply it was painted after he had settled in England with his father. Van de Velde the Younger’s signature with its distinctive round letters provides another clue. Until c. 1680, the father usually signed the works leaving their shared workshop with his signature consisting of angular letters. The addition ‘J’ or ‘jonge’ only appears to have been in use from around that date onwards as well.1 Robinson dated it to c. 1685.
Van de Velde began painting serene coastal or inland water scenes right at the start of his career, the earliest dated examples being from 1653.2 In fact, his early production for a large part consists of these calms. Three categories can roughly be distinguished. There are views without any land, those with piers or jetties and those to which our painting belongs; showing the shore in the foreground. Beach scenes represent a popular subgenre in seventeenth century painting that harks back to a respectable tradition which began in the early fifteenth century with Jan van Eyck’s famous miniature of Count Jan van Beieren of Holland at Scheveningen Beach. A direct model for Van de Velde, however, was Simon de Vlieger, one of his teachers, who turned the beach into a décor for quiet and stately compositions in which atmospheric effects and shipping vie with each other as primary motifs. De Vlieger’s early and already at the time muchcopied calm in Strasbourg, datable to c. 1651/52, is rightly noted by scholars as a stepping stone opening up to the younger generation of marine specialists an inexhaustible array of artistic possibilities.3 Van de Velde, no doubt, had seen this painting. He must also have known Jan van de Cappelle’s tranquil scenes, the earliest of which date from 1649.4 These examples converted the young artist to a life-long journey of exploration during which he perfected his interpretation of the subject. The present painting constitutes the apogee.
Most of Van de Velde’s quiet views are set under a sky of piled up cumulus clouds and offer a continuous view to the horizon, creating a powerful spatial effect. Van de Velde probably painted these, often cabinet-size, pictures for the open market. One of the most celebrated paintings is Dutch vessels close inshore at low tide of 1661 in London.5 Other well-known early calms include pictures in the museums of Budapest, Kassel and St. Petersburg. They are still relatively monochrome in tone, the compositional arrangement somewhat stiff while the reflections of the ships are little differentiated.6 By contrast, our picture breathes a spirit of unprecedented freedom and energy. The intense blue sky and the all-pervading warm sunlight create a joyous effect. The reflections of the ships’ hulls are clear and emphasize the flatness of the expanse of water. The imposing cloudscape is boldly structured diagonally. A play of diagonal accents is subtly applied in the ships’ rigging. Together with the flowing shapes of the drooping sails, the latter imbue the composition with a calligraphic quality. As always, the masts of the vessels in the foreground evoke optical drama and monumentality. The seemingly random, but carefully thought-through arrangement of the vessels imparts a charm of its own. In addition to the overwhelming sense of space and the palpable luminosity of the sky, the scene is packed with fastidious detail, showing the artist’s interest in the typical activities of sailors and fishermen. The low vantage point gives the beholder the sensation of standing on the shore and enjoying the full panoramic vista.
Willem van de Velde the Younger was the son of the marine artist Willem van de Velde the Elder and Judicgen Adriaensdr van Leeuwen. Shortly after Willem II’s birth the family moved to Amsterdam. Another son, Adriaen, who would become a successful artist as well, was born in Amsterdam in 1636. Like his younger brother, Willem initially trained with his father but was sent off to Weesp around 1648 to finish his education with Simon de Vlieger. In 1652 he was back in Amsterdam and married Petronella le Maine but divorced her only one year later. In 1666 Willem married his second wife Magdalena Walraven. In 1661 Van de Velde the Elder visited England and by the closing of 1672 he had left with his son for England for good. Father and son settled in Greenwich, in the outskirts of London. At first Willem I and II primarily worked for King Charles II, who provided them with lodgings in Greenwich and allowed them to use the Queen’s House as their studio, a handsome building designed by Inigo Jones and presently part of the Maritime Museum, which houses so many outstanding works by the Van de Veldes. In 1674 a royal warrant stipulated that both artists were to receive an annual pension of one hundred Pounds while to were also to receive payment for every painting individually. From the outset, the Van de Veldes also worked for the king’s brother, the future James II, who continued patronizing them after his brother’s death in 1685. In 1691 the Van de Veldes settled in Westminster, London, where they remained until their deaths. They are buried alongside each other in the church of St James, Piccadilly. Willem the Younger had two sons, Willem III and Cornelis, who also became marine painters and continued to work in their father’s style. Van de Velde also had some English followers. Namely Peter Monamy and Robert Woodstock, who further contributed to Van de Velde’s fame by producing versions and imitations of the master.
1 R. Daalder, Van de Velde & Son, marine painters: the firm of Willem van de Velde the Elder and Willem van der Velde the Younger, 1640-1707, Leiden 2016, pp. 74, 175.
2 St. Petersburg, Hermitage and Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meiser, Schloss Wilhelmshöhe. The former illustrated in A. E. Krol, K. M. Semenova (eds.), Musée de l'Ermitage: peinture de l'Europe occidentale, 2 vols., Leningrad 1981, vol. 2, p. 114, the latter in B. Schnackenburg, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister Gesamtkatalog: Staatliche Museen Kassel, 2 vols., Mainz 1996, vol. 2, plate 186.
3 For a discussion of this seminal picture see Kelch in Lof der zeevaart: de Hollandse zeeschilders van de 17e eeuw, exh. cat. Rotterdam (Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen), Berlin (Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen), 1996/97, pp. 200-02, no. 38.
4 See for instance Van de Cappelle’s picture in Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, which is dated that year. For a discussion of this work see Kelch in exh. cat. Rotterdam-Berlin 1996/87, pp. 289-90, no 62.
5 National Gallery. Illustrated in C. Brown, N. MacLaren, The Dutch School 1600-1900, 2 vols., London 1991, vol. 2, plate 375.
6 George Keyes in Mirror of empire: Dutch marine art of the seventeenth century, exh. cat. Los Angeles County Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Toledo Museum of Art, 1991, p. 160.