Shipping on the River Ij at Amsterdam
Signed, lower right, on a floating log: A. Storck
Oil on canvas, 20½ x 25⅝ ins. (52 x 65 cm)
Mrs. J. F. Biles, England
Sale, Christie’s, London, 9 June 1950, lot 136 (260 gns. to De Boer)
Sale, Christie’s, London, 5 July 1985, lot 48 (£32,400)
Private Collection, U.S.A., until 2018
Abraham Storck was one of the leading marine painters working in Amsterdam in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. The most illustrious member of a large family of marine painters, Storck was born in Amsterdam in 1644 and lived and worked there all his life. His eighteenth-century biographer Arnold Houbraken characterised him as a painter of ‘tempestuous and tranquil seascapes, ships and moles and crowds of figures, as well as barges and other craft crammed with soldiers and sailors and chests and bedding’, a description that gives a good idea of the broad repertory of maritime themes that he embraced. Early in his career Storck depicted naval battles and beach scenes, before developing a speciality in painting views of Amsterdam harbour, recreational sailing activities on the Amstel and Vecht rivers and mock battles, such as the one staged on the River Ij in honour of Czar Peter the Great in 1697. Later, he turned to painting views of Mediterranean seaports which are largely imaginary.
In this attractive painting, Storck has taken a view from the north side of the River Ij, looking in a south-westerly direction towards the city of Amsterdam. It is evidently morning as the sunlight comes from the east, as does the stiff breeze. A variety of craft, both small and large, fills the busy channel of water. In the left foreground, a boyer yacht on a starboard tack, is passing a large rowing boat, with some distinguished-looking passengers and a bugler on board, and a States yacht, with a lavishly carved and gilded stern. Beyond are several smaller sailing vessels and an ocean-going trading vessel, called a fluyt. A large square-sterned ship, probably an East Indiaman, can be seen in the centre in the distance, while other small river and coastal sailing craft appear on the right. The artist has signed his name on a piece of driftwood bobbing on the waves in the right foreground.
Some of Amsterdam’s best known landmarks can be distinguished in the background: among those that can be recognised are, from left to right, the buildings of the Amsterdam Admiralty, the long, low façade of the Dutch East India Company warehouse at Oostenburg, with the Oosterkerk at Wittenburg behind, and the towers of the Zuiderkerk and the Montelbaanstoren. Clearly visible in the centre, between the boyer and the fluyt, are the new Town Hall, with its great cupola, completed in 1665, and its close neighbour on Dam Square, the Nieuwe Kerk. Appearing slightly to the left, are the towers of the Oude Kerk and the Westerkerk, and to the right of the fluyt, the copper dome of the Lutheran Church, and finally the Noorderkerk. A much larger painting by Storck of shipping in the River Ij, taken from virtually the same viewpoint, and dated 1689, is on long-term loan to the Gemäldegalerie, in Berlin (I).
This characteristic work is a good example of Storck’s lively marine views. Whereas his contemporary and rival Ludolf Backhuysen (1631-1708) favoured turbulent seas and scenes infused with drama, Storck specialised in representations of recreational activities in clement weather conditions. Here, the low viewpoint conveys the impression of being on the water in a small sailing craft, while the fluttering flags and pennants and dancing whitecaps capture the atmosphere of a sunlit, breezy day. A light-hearted mood is struck by the parties of elegantly dressed people enjoying themselves in the pleasure yacht, and the bugler playing a fanfare in the bows of the rowing boat. Storck’s distinctive palette balances a range of cool blues and greys with creams, ochre and salmon pink, enlivened by accents of brighter reds and blues.
Abraham Storck was baptised in the Noorderkerk in Amsterdam on 17th April, 1644. His father, the marine painter, Jan Jansz. Sturck, or Sturckenburg, moved to the city from Wesel, becoming a citizen of Amsterdam in 1628. Jan had three sons, Johannes, Jacob and Abraham, all three of whom became marine painters. No works by the father survive and Johannes also remains an obscure figure. Jacob Storck produced a sizeable oeuvre of paintings, but Abraham is by far the most illustrious member of the family. Surprisingly little is known about the life of the artist despite his productive and successful career. He trained and worked with his father and became a member of the guild of St. Luke, his name appearing on the list of members in 1688. According to Gerlinde de Beer (ii) he was a pupil or assistant of Ludolf Backhuyzen (1631-1708), whose influence is evident in Storck’s early work. Around 1670, he apparently made a trip along the Rhine with his brother Jacob, visiting Bonn, Mainz, Worms, Speyer and Aschaffenburg (iii): drawings made during the trip provided source material for later paintings. Although the subject matter of some of his paintings has given rise to speculation that he visited Italy, this has never been proved. Storck was a friend of the Beerstraten family of painters and was distantly related to them by marriage. On 14 November 1694, at the age of 50, Abraham Storck married Neeltje Pieters van Meyservelt. Their marriage was childless, although Neeltje had two children by a previous marriage who became part of the Storck household. Abraham Storck, latterly of the Grote Kattenburgerstraat, was buried in the St. Anthoniskerk cemetery on 8 April 1708.
Abraham Storck’s work is represented in many museums around the world including the National Gallery, London; The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; The Scheepvaart Museum, Amsterdam; The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich; The Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem and the Mauritshuis, The Hague.
i Abraham Storck, Shipping on the Ij by Amsterdam, 1689, on canvas, 111.5 x 151 cm, Gemäldegalerie (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), Berlin, on long-term loan by a private collector
ii See her entry on Backhuyzen in the exhibition catalogue Praise of Ships and the Sea: The Dutch Marine
Painters of the 17th century, Rotterdam, 1997.
iii According to the database entry on Abraham Storck in the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History.
1644 - Amsterdam - 1708
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