The Prince Friese under tow
The Prince Friese under tow

The Prince Friese under tow

Adriaen Cornelisz. van Salm ( c. 1657 – 1720 )
The Prins Friese under tow, with Cap Finistère in the background – a penschilderij Signed lower left on a piece of driftwood A. Salm, pen and ink on white prepared panel 48 x 67 cm

N. Eyken Sluyters, Wassenaar; in whose family the painting has remained since at least two generations ; thence by inheritance to the present owner.

The present painting, which has recently surfaced from a private family in the Netherlands, depicts three men o’ war in the aftermath of the heavy storm of November 1696 in the Gulf of Biscay, which wrecked the majority of a convoy of Dutch and English merchantmen on its way to Portugal and Cadiz near Cap Finistère as much as the nine men o’ war of the escorting squadron under command of Vice Admiral Geleyn Evertsen ( 1655 – 1721 ).

The Prins Friese, seen here with its masts broken, its rigging severely damaged and under tow of the ships D’Hoop and D S’ Anthony, indeed formed part of the escorting squadron during the journey, its captain being Willem Joseph Baron van Ghent Junior ( 1672 – 1732 ), the son of the famous Admiral, who had fallen during the Battle of Solebay in 1672. The ship, named after the Frisian Stadholder Johan Willem Friso of Nassau – Dietz ( 1687 – 1711 ) was built in Harlingen and financed by the States General. It replaced the man of war of the same name which had been captured by the French at the Battle of Texel, on the 29th of June 1694 during the Nine Years War and subsequently taken to Dunkirk.

This second Prins Friese measured 145 feet and carried 64/8 canons, while its crew numbered 310. As its predecessor, it served during the Nine Years War ( 1688 – 1697 ) with France, although no activities have been recorded during the later years of the war. Its last record is a sale at auction in Harlingen, after which it was probably demolished.

The wrecked journey to Portugal and Cadiz had started on the 13th of November 1696 and has been extensively described: ‘ The fleet enjoyed a favourable wind for only a few days, but from then on struggled constantly with headwinds and very rough weather, which on the 27th, just as the fleet reached Cape Finisterre, degenerated into a violent storm that lasted with more or less intensity for almost four weeks, such that Vice Admiral Evertsen was moved to write that “in all his years at sea, he had not encountered such a lengthy storm” and Anthony Pieterson, [captain of the Hollandia, one of the convoy of ships] reported “that all the sailors were unanimous that they had never experienced such an intense and prolonged period of stormy weather”. 

As a consequence, the squadron and the entire merchant fleet were dispersed and scattered: not a single Dutch or English warship remained undamaged and three English merchant ships fell prey to the waves’ ( See : J. C. de Jonge, Geschiedenis van het Nederlandsche Zeewezen, 1858), III, 511. )

In the painting’s background is Cap Finistère with probably the Walcheren, the flagship of Admiral Geleyn Evertsen, recognisable by the long pennant, and four other ships waiting for rescue.

The painting is fine example of a so called penschilderij, a technique invented by Willem van de Velde I by which the composition was executed in pen and ink on a white prepared ground. Willem van de Velde’s penschilderijen of naval battles, stimulated a number of mostly Rotterdam marine painters to specialise in the technique. Of these Adriaen van Salm was the most known. Living in Delfshaven, he specialised in the portrayals of ships, which he executed for captains and sailors as a visual record of their ships and journeys. It is not unlikely that Willem Joseph Baron van Ghent commissioned the present painting. As an employee of the Admirality of Rotterdam, he must have been acquainted with van Salm’s work in nearby Delfshaven. The likely date of the painting is thus 1697/1700.

We are grateful to Dr Remmelt Daalder for identifying the subject and for his extensive report.