Shipping in a Calm offshore with Figures on the Shore by a Rowing Boat, a Man-of-War lying off
Willem van de Velde the Younger
Signed with initials on a spar, lower right: WVV
Inscribed on the verso: ADelahante, and with the brush inventory number: 1732
On panel, 14 x 18 ins. (36.5 x 47.2 cm)
With Alexis Delahante, London (1767-1837)
With Robert Hume (1808-40), 65 Berners Street, London, by 1848
From whom purchased on 21 April 1848 for £250 by Alexander Hamilton, 10th Duke of Hamilton, 7th Duke of Brandon (1767-1852), Hamilton Palace, South Lanarkshire
At Hamilton Palace, in the Cabinet from 1848 to circa 1852 and thereafter in the Breakfast Room of the Old State Rooms on the first floor of the West Wing
Thence by descent until sold (‘The Hamilton Palace sale’), Christie’s, London, 17 June 1882, lot 35, to Christopher Beckett Denison for £1300 gns
Christopher Beckett Denison, M.P. (1825-1884), 41 Upper Grosvenor Street, London
His deceased sale, Christie’s, London, 13 June 1885, lot 923, to Watson for £829.10s, on behalf of a UK private collector
Thence by direct descent to the previous owner, 2012
G. Waagen, Treasures of Art in Britain, London 1854, vol. III, p. 303
W. Roberts, Memorials of Christie’s Record of Art Sales from 1766 to 1896, vol. II, London 1897, p. 9
C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, English edn., vol. VII, 1923, p. 48, no. 173 (measurements given as width before height, 18 x 14 ins.)
The greatest seventeenth-century Dutch marine painter, Willem van de Velde the Younger was born into a family with close ties to the world of ships and seafaring. His grandfather was a skipper from Oostwinckel in Flanders and his father Willem van de Velde the Elder may have spent a period at sea before embarking on a career as a marine artist. Two of his uncles were also seamen. Willem the Younger learnt the rudiments of painting from his father, a talented and prolific draughtsman, who specialised in the art of 'pen painting' (penschilderijen). Subsequently, he became a pupil of Simon de Vlieger, whose subtle, silvery-grey portrayals of ships beneath cloudy skies made a deep impression upon his poetic disposition. On completing his training, Willem rejoined his father's studio and worked in close partnership with him until the Elder's death in 1693.
This small panel takes up the favourite theme of Willem van de Velde's early career: namely, shipping in calm conditions. A stretch of sandy coastline is depicted on a windless day. The sea is glassy calm and banks of cumulus clouds bubble upwards in a clear blue sky. A wijdschip lies at anchor close to the shore, its sails party unfurled. Immediately behind it are a smaller sprit-rigged vessel, probably a kaag, with its mainsail raised, and another vessel, possibly a fishing pink, judging from its bezan rig: a smaller craft with its mast and furled sail lowered has come alongside. Moored further away to the right is a smalschip, with its mainsail partly raised and figures boarding from a rowing boat. In the left background are several larger vessels including a man-of-war firing a salute. In the left foreground, two fishermen aboard a skiff haul in their nets, while on the right, a weyschuit is beached on a spit of sand exposed by the low tide.
The scene is one of utmost tranquillity, offset only by the activities of man. On board the various vessels, the crews go about their routines in accordance with the natural rhythm of the tides, the hours of the day and the ever-changing patterns of the weather. On shore, a man wading in the shallows is busy scrubbing the hull of the weyschuit, while another pauses in his work to talk to a man carrying a creel on his back. The acutely observed details of the boats, their sails and rigging, and the ways of seafaring folk reveal the artistís intimate knowledge of the sea.
In about 1653, shortly after leaving de Vlieger's studio, Willem van de Velde began to paint inshore calms and continued to produce them until the early 1660s. The earliest are still somewhat monochrome in character, but he soon moved away from the subdued tonalism of de Vlieger and formulated an idiom in which colours become more resonant, light more limpid and the contrast between light and shadow more pronounced. In the later 1650s and early 1660s, van de Velde brought his concept of the calm to perfection in such masterpieces as Dutch Vessels close Inshore at low Tide and Men bathing, of 1661, in the National Gallery, London (i) and the similarly dated Fishing Boats Offshore in a Calm, in the Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, in Massachusetts, U.S.A (ii). The present painting probably dates from a few years earlier, around 1659-60, but already displays the refinement associated with this triumphal phase in the young artistís career. Characteristic of this period are the perfectly balanced composition, the masterly treatment of reflections in the still water and the delicate, all-pervading sense of atmosphere.
This painting has a noteworthy provenance, having passed through the hands of several distinguished collectors in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Probably part of the collection of the Duc de Berri (1778-1820), it was brought to England by the French dealer Alexis Delahante, whose name is inscribed on the verso of the panel. It subsequently entered the celebrated collection of the Duke of Hamilton and was placed on display at Hamilton Palace, where it was admired by the connoisseur Gustav Waagen in 1851, who described it as 'A quiet sea; both water and sky of the utmost transparency and delicacy. One of the most beautiful pictures I know of this master'.
The second child of the marine artist of the same name, Willem van de Velde the Younger was baptised in Leiden on 18 December 1633. By 1636, the family had settled in Amsterdam where another son, Adriaen, who became a noted landscape artist, was born. Willem the Younger probably first studied with his father and then, according to Houbraken, he became the pupil of Simon de Vlieger, probably in Weesp (iii) where the artist had settled in around 1648-50. It was to a girl from Weesp, Petronella Le Maire, that the Younger was married in Amsterdam on the 18 December 1652. The marriage did not last long before Willem brought proceedings against his wife with de Vlieger testifying on his behalf. In 1666 Willem married for a second time to Magdalena Walravens and the couple had six children, of whom three sons, Willem III, Cornelis and Peter became painters. Willem remained in Amsterdam until the Third Anglo-Dutch War and the French invasion of 1672, when the art market collapsed and father and son emigrated to England. In the following year Willem is recorded painting sopraporte for Ham House and, in 1674, father and son entered the service of Charles II. The warrant of appointment states that each was to be paid a salary of one hundred pounds a year, the father for 'taking and making of Draughts of seafights' and the son for 'putting the said Draughts into Colours' (iv), in addition to which they received payment for their pictures. Except for brief visits to Holland, the van de Veldes stayed in England for the remainder of their lives, sharing a home and studio in the Queenís House, Greenwich, until they moved to Westminster in 1691. Willem the Elder died there in 1693 and his son, who outlived him by fourteen years, died on 6 April 1707 and was buried next to his father in St. Jamesís Church, Piccadilly.P.M.
signed and dated 1661, on canvas, 63.2 x 72.2 cm, National Gallery, London, inv. no. 871.
ii Willem van de Velde the Younger, Fishing Boats Offshore in a Calm, signed, on canvas,
65.8 x 78.5 cm, Springfiled Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.A., The James
Philip Gray Collection, inv. 50.02.
iii Arnold Houbraken, De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders, vol. 2, p.325. De
Vlieger had been a neighbour of the van de Velde family in Amsterdam before moving to Weesp.
iv Public Record Office, London, February 1673/4, King’s Bills, S07/40.
Willem van de Velde the Younger
Leiden 1633 - 1707 London
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