A calm Sea with a Kaag and a Boeier close to the Shore, other Ships beyond
Willem van de Velde the Younger
Signed with initials, lower right: W.V.V.
On canvas, 13 x 15 ins. (33.2 x 38.2 cm)
with Messrs. Smith, London,
by whom sold on 21 June 1836 to ‘Monr. Brondgeest’
Possibly Baron Johan Gijsbert Verstolk van Soelen (1776-1845), Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Castle Soelen, The Netherlands
Bought en bloc with the Verstolk collection in 1846 by Baring, Mildmay and Jones Lloyd
Possibly Hugh Bingham Mildmay, London and Flete, Devon
His sale, Christie’s, London, 24 June 1893, lot 79 (£640 10s to Agnew’s, London, where recorded in Agnew’s stockbook 6, no. 6741)
Sold by the above to James Leveson Ross (Scotland 1848-1913 Canada), Montreal, 26 June 1893
Lady Patricia Ramsay (1886-1974)
Sold by order of her Executors, Christie’s, London, 28 June 1974, lot 68
With Rupert Preston, London
Acquired by the late owners on 8 September 1977 for 629,000 Deutschmarks
Private collection, Germany, 2015
Probably J. Smith, Day Books, with Indices of buyers, Mss. National Art Library, Great Britain, vols. I-IV, 1 January 1812 – 12 March 1867, vol. II, p. 566, 86 CC2
J. Smith, A Catalogue raisonné …. Supplement, London, 1842, p. 767, no. 39
M. S. Robinson, The Paintings of the Willem van de Veldes, 2 vols., London 1990, vol. I, pp. 422-423, no. 597 as “painted substantially by the Younger for the Van de Velde studio, perhaps c. 1670.”
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 seafaring. His grandfather was a skipper from Oostwinckel in Flanders and his father Willem van de Velde the Elder may have spent time 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 him. On completing his training, Willem rejoined the family studio, where he worked in close partnership with his father until the Elder’s death in 1693.
This small canvas takes up one of Willem van de Velde’s favourite themes: namely, shipping in calm conditions. An expanse of shallow coastal water is depicted on a windless day. The sea is glassy calm and banks of cumulus clouds bubble upwards in a pale blue sky. On the right, close to a spit of sand, lies a kaag and behind her is a bezan-rigged vessel, possibly a boeier. Members of their crews are busy on deck preparing to get under way: the kaag’s anchor has been raised and a skiff is being stowed, while in the boat behind, a man is hoisting the mainsail. Two men with a rowing boat are wading in the shallows close by. Further off, to the left, a man-of-war is firing a salute: a small sailing vessel has come alongside to starboard, while a sloop is approaching on her port side. Two other vessels from her squadron can be glimpsed beyond.
In the early 1650s, shortly after leaving de Vlieger’s studio, Willem van de Velde began to paint inshore calms and continued to do so until early in the next decade, when their production seems to have become much scarcer. The earliest are still somewhat monochrome in character, but he soon formulated a new idiom in which colours became 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). Here, the brighter colours, notably that of the sky and its reflection in the water, would however seem to indicate a slightly later date for this work, and Robinson places it around 1670.
Van de Velde’s ability to convey the atmosphere of a coastal calm has never been equalled. Here, the scene is one of great 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. Notwithstanding the picture’s intimate scale, it gives the impression of boundless space.
This beautifully preserved example of one of van de Velde’s famous Calms very probably formed part of the famous collection in The Netherlands formed by the Dutch statesman Baron Johan Verstolk van Soelen (1776-1845). However, the early history of the painting is not entirely clear, because some of the possible early descriptions of it are slightly inaccurate, and it may therefore have been confused with another lost picture of similar design, or with another van de Velde Calm that was also in the Bingham Mildmay collection in 1893. The Christie’s sale catalogue from 1974 simply states that it came from the Brondgeest collection, but without any supporting evidence. As Robinson points out, a painting by van de Velde of similar appearance and size is recorded in John Smith’s Day Book as being sold on 21 June 1836 to “Monr. Brondgeest”. This is described as: “A view at sea during a clam, - two small vessels in front to the left (sinister) of which is a small boat – on the other side a frigate is advancing & firing a salute – a small boat laden with figures appears to have just quitted it – another vessel is visible thro’ the smoke, a beautiful specimen by W. V.Velde f.a.o. 13 x 15 C.1025/27”. No Brondgeest collection seems to be recorded, however the reference may be to the well-known Amsterdam auctioneer of the same name, or indeed the painter Adolphus Brondgeest. The painting would also seem to be the one incorrectly reproduced as lot 78 in the catalogue of the Bingham Mildmay sale in 1893, but was perhaps intended as an illustratation to lot 79: “A Calm, with two fishing boats at anchor in shallow water and two men wading with a boat on the left, a sloop in the middle distance, a man-of-war saluting a frigate, a yacht and a row boat near on the right. 13 in by 15 in”. Although this description fits only partially, the catalogue states that Mildmay bought his picture from the Collection of Baron Verstolk van Soelen, 1846. This is surely a reference to his purchase of the collection en bloc together with Thomas Baring and Jones Lloyd that same year. Such a possibility is supported by another reference in Smith’s Supplement of 1842, in which his no. 39 is stated to have come from the Verstolk collection and is described thus: “View on the Dutch Coast, during a calm fine day. This exquisitely-wrought picture is composed, on the left, of two fishing boats, from which some people are coming off in a small boat. On the opposite side, and at some distance off, is a frigate, from which a gun is discharged; and through the smoke from the cannon another ship is perceived. 1 ft 1 in. by 1 ft. 3 in. Canvas”. This painting is seemingly not recorded by Hofstede de Groot, who confuses Smith’s no. 39 with the companion picture in the Mildmay Sale in two entries, his nos. 213 and 296 (iii). In his entry Smith records that Messrs. Smith had bought the picture from Sir Charles Blount Bt., but gives no further details.
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 (iv) 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” (v), 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 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.
Willem van de Velde the Younger was hugely influential for later generations of marine artists. He had a number of pupils, including two of his sons, Isaac Sailmaker, Jacob Knyff, Peter Monamy and Charles Brooking, as well as followers and emulators, who perpetuated his style well into the eighteenth century. His remarkable achievements in marine art were later to serve as an inspiration for his most celebrated admirer, J. M. W. Turner.
i Willem van de Velde the Younger, Dutch Vessels close Inshore at Low Tide, and Men bathing,
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, Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.A., The James
Philip Gray Collection, inv. 50.02.
iii C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné …., vol. VII, London, 1923, p. 60, no. 213 and p. 81, no. 296.
iv 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.
v 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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