There also seems to be a relation with Sillemans who, according to the Van de Velde scholar Robinson, may have collaborated in the Van de Velde workshop.xiii Sillemans
experimented with a counterproof technique and printed his paintings.xiv As a result, of several compositions various versions exist and the same motifs recur time and again, often in new combinations. An (almost) literal reuse of elements has also been observed in Witmont’s pen paintings, although there seems to be no evidence that he utilized a printing technique.xv To enhance the impression of a print Sillemans painted black framing lines round his marine of 1649 in the Rijksmuseum (SK-A-1366), that artist’s earliest dated work by the way. Witmont also added them in our pair.
Witmont’s precise technique has not yet been unraveled. A puzzling hallmark of his pen paintings is a stipple technique. Witmont did also work with hatchings in imitation of engraving but the thousands of small dots used to create tonal values and the surface textures of the water and the sails of the ships appear to be his original contribution to marine pen painting. Witmont’s marines indeed look like prints, in the first place owing to the controlled range of shade and light, which calls up a certain overall and even paleness that is also characteristic for prints. Yet, the typical dots Witmont used were not used in prints at all at that time. The earliest engravers already created stippling effects with burin or dry-point, with Giulio Campagnola as the first to make extensive use of them around 1500.xvi These dots, however, under magnification look very different from the small irregular round spots we see with Witmont. Although we don’t know how he applied them, from the looks of it, it may well have been a time consuming method. Just like Van de Velde, Witmont also worked up his pen paintings with the brush to suggest atmosphere and add depth to shading.
In this pair, Witmont conjured heavy weather. Thundering waves splash up high. A low standpoint and horizon make the scene ever more forceful. The three-masters are
labouring to hold their ground. In one of the paintings, precarious rocks as part of a capricious coastline add another dramatic accent. In both scenes, fluyten are featured, a
type of Dutch cargo vessel, with their typical round hulls and narrow decks. The other three-masters are probably also merchantmen. The relatively high sterns of the so-called Spiegel-ships make them identifiable as a relatively early type that could have been built in the late 1620s or 1630s. Dendrochronological analysis allows for dating the
paintings in the late 1640s at the earliest, with a date in the early 1650s as a more likely alternative.
The possibility that Witmont portrayed real ships cannot be excluded. With about 80 % of these pictures’ surface taken up by the sky, however, these storm scenes are first and foremost about weather conditions and atmosphere. The seagulls flying over the water in the left and right foreground indicate the directions of the wind. The diminutive shapes of shipping in the further distance emphasize the vastness of the open water. With his choice for a rough sea Witmont deviates from the pen paintings of Willem van de Velde the Elder, who favoured calm water surfaces. A number of other signed works by Witmont that are comparable in subject and treatment have survived and will be from the same period.xvii
i For a biography see, Lammertse in J. Giltaij et al., Lof der Zeevaart, Rotterdam (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen), Berlin (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie im Bodemuseum) 1996, p. 407.
ii For this see: A. Knops, L. Thijsse, Een stuck van Witmont mette pen gedaan, Delft 2011, p. 28.
iii This pair of similar but slightly smaller storm scenes was in 1974 with art dealer Hoogsteder in The Hague (see photo’s at RKD, The Hague).
iv See for this the classic essay by Lammertse, ‘“Watmen met een penne doen can”: over penschilderijen met een maritieme voorstelling’, in Giltaij et al. 1996 (see note 1), pp. 45-59.
v For a brief but through survey of this discussion see: D. Freedberg, A. Burnstock en A. Phenix, ‘Paintings or prints? Experiens Sillemans and the Origins of the Grisaille Sea-piece: Notes on a rediscovered technique’, Print Quarterly 1 (1984), p. 153, note 14.
vi For this see: L. Nichols, The paintings of Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617): a monograph and catalogue raisonné, Doornspijk 2013, p. 26.
vii Fantasy composition with the brewery De Drie Leliën at the Spaarne in Haarlem, the country seat Velserend in Santpoort and (seen from the north) the ruins of Brederode Castle (dated 1627), Haarlem, Frans Hals Museum.
viii See for this: M. Bijl, ‘Willem van de Velde marine draughtsman’, The Rijksmuseum Bulletin 58 (2010), pp. 190-97 and more recently: 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. 42-50.
ix A kaag and other vessels off a spierhead, Greenwich, National Maritime Museum.
x The document was first published by P. Haverkorn van Rijsewijk, ‘De eerste oorlog met Engeland en Willem van de Velde de Oude,’ Oud Holland 17 (1899), p. 35.
xi Occasional dates may be found on the ships but no date accompanies a signature.
xii Kröller-Müller Museum.
xiii For Robinson’s suggestion, see: M.S. Robinson, The paintings of the Willem van de Veldes: a catalogue of the paintings of the Elder and the Younger Willem van de Velde, 2 vols., Greenwich 1990, vol. 1, p. 99.
xiv Freedberg et al. 1984 (see note 5), passim.
xv If Witmont did not work with a counterproof technique he will have used detailed drawn studies. Technical research on Witmont’s work would be welcomed to shed more light on how the artist transposed the motifs from drawing to primed painting support. Various ships in our pair also recur in other paintings by Witmont.
xvi A. Stijnman, Engraving and etching 1400-2000: a history of the development of manual intaglio printmaking processes, Houten 2012, pp. 33, 181-84.
xvii Apart from the already-mentioned Hoogsteder pair there was one at sale Amsterdam, Christie’s, 9 May 2001, lot 131 (photo RKD, The Hague). One in a private Dutch collection was discussed by Lammertse and illustrated in Giltaij et al. 1996 (note 1), pp. 408-10, and yet another was illustrated there as a comparison as well (in 1992 with Gallery Lingenauber in Düsseldorf). Both latter works feature a three-master with its spiegel turned to the spectator that is literally repeated in one of our pair. Finally, a storm scene was at sale Amsterdam, Christie’s, 14 May 2003, lot 173.