Willem van de Velde the Younger

Leiden 1633 - 1707 London

The Morning Gun

Indistinctly signed, lower right: W. V Velde In London 1673
On canvas, 25½ x 20¼ ins. (65 x 51.5 cm)


Sold to the National Gallery of Art, Washington

William D. Stuart, 1857
Mrs. P. A. Chamier
By whom sold at Christie’s, London, 10 April 1981, lot 74 (£65,000)
Dr. F. Zoellner, Risch, Switzerland, 1999
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s, London, 16 December 1999, lot 28, where acquired by
Richard Green, London, 1999
Private collection, United Kingdom, 1999-2017


M. S. Robinson, A Catalogue of the Paintings of the Elder and Younger Willem van de Velde, 2 vols, London 1990, vol. II, pp. 638-640, no. 348 (2) and under no. 348 (1). 


London, British Institution, 1857, no. 167, as “The Morning Gun”.


“The Morning Gun” - as this attractive canvas was titled in the 1857 British Institute exhibition - was painted by Willem van de Velde the Younger soon after his arrival in London in the winter of 1672-73.  An English man-o'-war, bearing the Royal Arms, dominates the foreground.  She is pictured either at anchor, or just coming to anchor[i].  Her crew is busy in the rigging, clewing up the foresail and furling the mainsail.  A state barge filled with people pulls away from her port quarter just as she fires a salute.  A two-decker lies at anchor in the left background.  The sea is extremely placid, the ships reflecting in the calm water.  Banks of grey, cumulus clouds billow upwards in a lofty sky.  Illuminated in the raking light of early morning, the sails hang limply in the still air.  The close-up view of the ship’s stern, seen from a low vantage point across the water, and the soaring masts endow this seascape with a certain grandeur. 

Willem van de Velde the Younger, and his father, Willem van de Velde the Elder (1611-1693), were the pre-eminent marine artists of the Dutch Republic.  Willem the Elder had made a name for himself as a skilled naval draughtsman and a maker of pen paintings (penschilderij).  His eldest son, Willem the Younger, followed in his footsteps, initially training with his father, from whom he acquired an extensive knowledge of ships and learned the skills of draughtsmanship, before becoming a pupil of the celebrated marine painter Simon de Vlieger (1600/01-1653).  On completing his training he rejoined the family studio in Amsterdam, forming a close partnership with his father which lasted until the Elder’s death in 1693.

In 1672, the Willem van de Veldes, father and son, chose to leave Amsterdam and try their luck in London.  Their reasons for going are well documented.  The disastrous French invasion of the Dutch Republic in 1672 and the outbreak of the Third Anglo-Dutch war had brought the Dutch economy to its knees, resulting in the collapse of the art market.  As van de Velde the Elder’s client Pieter Blaeu explained in a letter to Leopoldo de’Medici, “As to Van de Velde and his sea battles, I must tell Your Most Reverend Highness that there was little more for him to do here due to the wretchedness in which this nation finds itself, and he has resolved to go to England to see if he can succeed better there,…. “[ii].  Their prospects in England by contrast must have seemed much more promising, for in June 1672, King Charles II had issued a declaration, encouraging Dutch people to settle in England.  There may also have been personal reasons why a hasty departure from the Netherlands would have suited the elder van de Velde.  By all accounts, he had led a complicated private life and was now in trouble with his wife, who had recently found out about an extra-marital affair. 

On their arrival in England, the van de Veldes lost no time in finding patrons in elite circles.  By early 1673, Willem the Younger was probably already working for the Duke of Lauderdale, supplying seascapes for his bedroom at his country estate, Ham House, near Richmond.  Barely a year later, father and son entered the service of the king, who “thought fit to allow the salary of One Hundred pounds per annum unto William Vandeveld the elder for taking and making Draughts of Sea Fights, and the like Salary of One Hundred pounds per annum unto William Vanderveld the younger for putting the said Draughts into Colours for our particular use”[iii].  The same year they were also provided with a house in Greenwich and studio space in the Queen’s House.  Clearly to have secured the services of the leading marine artists of the day was quite a coup and the king was intent on making them comfortable in England. 

News of their good fortune was confirmed in a letter of 1674 from Blaeu reported to Leopoldo de’Medici saying that “things are going well for him [Willem van de Velde the Elder] in England, and the King of England recently gave him and his son, who is a painter, an important commission for various sea battles, for which he is receiving forty thousand guilders, that he makes designs and his son the paintings, whereupon yet others will make tapestries.  He has accordingly written to his wife, who had remained here until now, telling her that she must come to England, because he wants to settle there for good”.  A month later Blaeu reported that he had recently run into Willem the Elder on the streets of Amsterdam, where he had come briefly to collect his wife, and was astonished by “… his in  very fine clothing and very well-made wig.  Merely by looking at him you could see that he was lacking for nothing”[iv].

Life in England evidently suited the van de Veldes and, apart from brief visits to their homeland, they remained there for the rest of their lives, sharing the house and studio in Greenwich until they moved to Westminster in 1691. 

The present painting is a version of a painting of the same subject at Ham House.  The latter forms one of the set of four pictures painted in 1673 by Willem the Younger for the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale at Ham House, where they may still be seen let into the panelling in the Duchess of Lauderdale’s bedroom.  The In London with which van de Velde appends his signature in our painting and the Ham House version is proof that they were both painted in England, but as Robinson points out, it is not at all clear which of the two versions was painted first.  There are a number of small differences in the details between the two, and perhaps more significantly, differences in format.  Probably due to the constraints of the panelling, the Ham House painting is taller and narrow than the present version, as a consequence of which the composition seems cramped and the state barge in the left foreground has been shortened to fit within the field of vision. The latter would tend to suggest that the present painting was the earlier version. 


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 was first a pupil of his father and then, according to Houbraken, studied with Simon de Vlieger in Weesp[i] 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, who bore him 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”[ii], 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 remainders of their lives, sharing a home and studio in the Queen’s 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. James’s Church, Piccadilly.

[i] According to Robinson, op. cit, 1990, vol. II, p. 638.

[ii]  Letter from Pieter Blaeu to Leopoldo de’ Medici, 1 June 1674; Peter Blaeu, Lettere ai fiorentini: Antonio Magliabechi, Leopoldo and Cosimo III de’ Medici e altri, 1660-1705, ed. Alfonso Mirto and Henk Th. Van Veen, Florence/Amsterdam/Maarssen 1993.  Quoted in Remmelt Daalder, Van de Velde & Son Marine Painters, Leiden, 2016, p. 129. 

[iii] Robinson, op. cit, 1990, vol. I, p. xii. 

[iv]  For the correspondence between Blaeu and Medici see: H. Geisenheimer, “Beiträge zur Geschichte des niederländischen Kunsthandels in der zweiten Hälfte des XVII Jahrhunderts”, Jahrbuch der  Preuszischen Kunstsammlungen, XXXII (1911), p 47. 

[v]  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. 

[vi]  Public Record Office, London, February 1673/4, King’s Bills, S07/40.