An English Galliot with other Vessels close to the Shore
Willem van de Velde the Younger
Signed, lower right on plank: W. V. Velde J
Oil on canvas, 24⅝ x 29½ ins. (62.5 x 75 cm)
Possibly Sir Thomas Sebright, Beechwood, Boxmoor, 1857
With M. Asscher, London, 1930s (according to a photograph in the Witt Library, London)
Purchased from Tooth by Colnaghi’s, London, 18 March 1937, with Zatsenstein
Ceded by Colnaghi’s to Matthiesen, 22 March 1951
With Arthur Tooth and Sons, London, 1954, where purchased by the
previous owner’s parents
Private collection, United Kingdom, until 2018
Possibly G. Waagen, Galleries and Cabinets of Art, London 1857, p. 330 (i)
Possibly H. de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné …, London, vol. VII, p. 100, no. 389
M. S. Robinson, A Catalogue of the Paintings of the Elder and Younger Willem van de Velde, 2 vols, London 1990, vol. II, pp. 702-3, no. 457 (1)
This attractive canvas dates from Willem van de Velde’s time in England. It takes up one of the artist’s favourite themes: namely, boats in calm conditions. An expanse of shallow coastal water is depicted at low tide on a windless day. The sea is glassy calm and the haze of early morning lingers over a distant wedge of coastline. Overhead the sun has burnt off the mist to reveal an azure blue sky. In the brightly lit foreground, the crew of a galliot is hoisting its sails and preparing to get under way, while two men in a small rowing boat handle the line running from its bow to the anchor holding in the shallows. Similar activities may be observed in the other small craft close to the beach, and in a fishing pink, beached on a spit of sand in the mid-distance. In the deeper water to the left, a royal yacht is under sail: she is firing a salute to her starboard as a barge pulls away from her port quarter. The outlines of two other large sailing vessels appear in the haze beyond.
The greatest seventeenth-century Dutch marine painter, Willem van de Velde the Younger was born in Leiden in 1633. He received his first artistic education from his father Willem van de Velde the Elder (1611-1693), a skilled naval draughtsman and maker of pen paintings (penschilderij), before becoming a pupil of the marine painter Simon de Vlieger (1600/1601-1653). On completing his training, Willem the Younger rejoined the family studio in Amsterdam, forming a close partnership with his father which lasted until the Elder’s death in 1693.
During the winter of 1672-73 the Willem van de Veldes, father and son, moved to London. Their reasons for emigrating 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. The situation is made clear in a letter from van de Velde the Elder’s client Pieter Blaeu 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). By contrast, their prospects only a short distance across the North Sea must have seemed far brighter, for in June 1672, King Charles II had issued a declaration, encouraging Dutch citizens to settle in England.
There is some evidence that Willem the Elder may already have visited London in 1660 or 1661, and possibly established contacts at the Court of Charles II while he was there (iii). In any case, shortly after he and Willem the Younger arrived in England in 1672-73, they both entered the service of the King and his brother, James, Duke of York. To have succeeded in attracting the two leading marine painters of the day to his court must have been quite a coup for the King and his brother and they went out of their way to assist the artists in their work and ensure that they were generously rewarded. In addition to each receiving an annual retainer of £100 and payment for their pictures, a large studio in the Queen’s house at Greenwich was made available to them, which they continued to use until 1691. The separate roles of the two artists is neatly summarised in the order issued by Charles II in 1674 to the Treasurer of the Navy instructing him to pay “the Salary of One hundred pounds per annum unto Willem Vandeveld the Elder for taking and making of Draughts of Sea Fights, and the like Salary of One hundred pounds per annum unto Willem Vandeveld the Younger for putting the said Draughts into Colours for our particular use” (iv).
Willem the Younger began painting his so-called “calms” while still in his twenties, and during the 1660s, perfected his poetic evocations of ships in calm waters. These have never been equalled and are regarded by many as the highpoint of his oeuvre. However, after settling in England, he produced far fewer paintings of this type. Instead, much of his energy was devoted to fulfilling the requirements of his royal patrons, which included among other commissions large format depictions of naval engagements, ceremonial events and ships’ portraits. There seems also to have been a considerable demand in England for dramatic scenes of ships in rough or even stormy seas. Nevertheless, he did from time to time return, as here, to this favoured subject of his youth. The scene depicted here is one of great tranquillity, offset only by the activities of man. On board the various craft, 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.
Robinson plausibly dates this painting to c. 1685 and considers it to be “painted probably substantially by the Younger”. This seems to be an accurate assessment. The signature - “WVVelde J” – employed here is the form adopted by Willem van de Velde the Younger from about 1680 ostensibly to distinguish himself from the family studio ‘brand name’ of ‘WVVelde’ or ‘WVV’ with which both he and his father had previously signed their work. It is also probably true to say that most of van de Velde’s paintings from this period show a degree of studio collaboration. Indeed, if one considers the prodigious output from the studio during these years, it is inconceivable that he could have met the demand for his work without the help of studio assistants. Yet surprisingly little is known about the organisation of the studio. Although such names as Isaac Sailmaker (c. 1633-1721), Jacob Knyff (1640-1681) and Peter Monamy (c. 1684-1749) are often put forward as likely assistants, there is no firm evidence of any involvement from pupils or assistants outside the family circle, and of Willem the Younger’s children, only the younger son Cornelis (1674-1714) and Cornelis’s brother-in-law Joris (called Johann or Johan in England) van der Hagen (1675-1745) seem to have been regularly active in the studio.
Robinson records another inferior version of this composition, which he judges to be “painted perhaps by the Van de Velde studio with little help from the master, c. 1700” (v).
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 (vi) 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”, 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 Described as “Willem Van de Velde – A calm sea. Among the vessels which enliven the surface, one in the middle-distance, somewhat towards the left, is remarkable. Warm and clear in tone, and of masterly treatment”.
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 Remmelt Daalder, Van de Velde & Son Marine Painters, Leiden 2016, p. 131
iv Calander of State Papers Domestic, Charles II, 12 January 1673 [=1674 NS].
v M. S. Robinson, op.cit., p. 703, no. 457 (2).
vi 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.
Willem van de Velde the Younger
Leiden 1633 - 1707 London
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