The life of ships

Willem van de Velde the Younger, Dutch vessels close inshore at low tide, and men bathing, 1662. ©The National Gallery, London, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

One of the recently announced allocations of works of art accepted in lieu of tax included two marine paintings by Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707).

Willem van de Velde the Younger, A Dutch yacht surrounded by many small vessels, saluting as two barges pull alongside, 1661. ©The National Gallery, London, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The artist came from a family of Dutch marine painters. Willem the Younger came to England in 1672-3, together with his father, Willem the Elder, in the wake of the turbulence in Holland following the French invasion of 1672.

Willem van de Velde the Younger, A Dutch flagship coming to anchor with a States yacht before a light air, 1658. ©National Maritime Museum, London, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

In his earlier work van de Velde specialised in pictures of ships in calm weather, reminiscent of still lifes in being at once beautifully composed and full of detail.

Willem van de Velde the Younger, A States yacht in a fresh breeze running towards a group of Dutch ships, 1673. ©National Maritime Museum, London, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

At the same time the ships appear to be almost alive, like horses or cattle ruminating in a meadow. One can sense the painter’s deep affinity with life on the coast and at sea.

Willem van de Velde the Younger, A Dutch three-master and a boeier in the foreground, her mainsail being lowered in stormy weather, c. 1670. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax on the estate of the late Edna, Lady Samuel of Wych Cross, and allocated to the National Trust for display at Buckland Abbey. Image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

In his later paintings gales, storms and shipwrecks become more common, but again the paintings seem to be simultaneously realistic and poetic.

Willem van de Velde the Younger, Dutch shipping in a heavy swell with a small hoeker under a half-lowered mainsail, and with a school of porpoises in the foreground, c. 1670. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax on the estate of the late Edna, Lady Samuel of Wych cross and allocated to the National Trust for display at Buckland Abbey. Image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

King Charles II and James, Duke of York commissioned Willem the Younger to produce a series of sea battle paintings following the end of the Anglo-Dutch wars in 1674. Van de Velde father and son were both given studio space in the Queen’s House at Greenwich.

Willem van de Velde the Younger, A Dutch ship and other small vessels in a strong breeze, 1658. ©The National Gallery, London, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Although the two paintings allocated to the National Trust were probably not conceived as a pair they have hung together since the early 19th century. The pictures were probably acquired in Amsterdam by Thomas Hope, the collector and taste-maker, and hung at is mansion The Deepdene in Surrey. Later they were owned by the Edwardian collector Alfred Beit.

Willem van de Velde the Younger, A Mediterranean brigantine drifting onto a rocky coast in a storm, c. 1700. ©National Maritime Museum, London, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The pictures have been allocated to Buckland Abbey, Devon. These and other paintings by Willem van de Velde the Younger can be perused via the Your Paintings/Public Catalogue Foundation site.

6 Responses to “The life of ships”

  1. Susan Walter Says:

    What’s a States yacht? I ‘googled’ it, but got nowhere.

  2. Andrew Says:

    A yacht of the States of Holland? From the Dutch “jacht” – related to hunt – a fast, light, gaff-rigged sailing vessel.

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks very much Andrew. Yes it would seem to be a yacht with the insignia of one of the States-Provincial. And yes from the coat or arms on the stern it seems to belong to or represent the States of the province of Holland – see this link for another representation of those arms: http://bit.ly/V84EpO

    The ‘States’ system of government in the Netherlands developed from the middle of the 15th century. Each province was governed by a States-Provincial, which sent delegates to the States-General, which reported to the Dukes of Burgundy. When the Netherlands revolted against Habsburg rule in the late 1570s and early 1580s the newly independent United Provinces kept the old system, but with the States-General as the supreme authority, in which each of the States-Provincial had an equal vote – an early if cumbersome form of democratic government. Much more about this can be found here: http://bit.ly/k24hIL

    And yes it is interesting that quite a few English nautical terms are of Dutch origin: boom, bow, brackish, buoy, commodore, cruise, deck, dike, dock, dune, freight, iceberg, keelhauling, maelstrom, mast, plug, schooner, skipper, sloop, smack, stern, stockfish, walrus, wreck and – as Andrew has already mentioned – yacht.

  4. Katharine Hope Says:

    Fascinating. I had the same question about the States Government. Thanks.

  5. Andrew Says:

    The word “States” is a bit confusing here; just a direct translation of the Dutch “Staten” meaning a legislative assembly; compare the French Etats-Généraux.

    I must admit that States of Holland (Staten van Holland – the govermnent of the province of Holland) was a lucky guess as I hadn’t thought to check the coat of arms on the ship, but Holland was by far the most powerful of the seven provinces in the Dutch Republic. Three of the five Dutch admiralties were based in Holland; it included Rotterdam and Amsterdam, as well as the likes of Delft and Leiden.

    Turner took on and argubly surpassed van de Velde with his 1801 painting, Dutch Boats in a Gale, painted for the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater as a pendant to van der Velde’s A Rising Gale from 1672 – http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/charlottehigginsblog/2009/sep/22/turner-and-the-masters-tate

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks for that further elucidation, Andrew. And even today the lower and upper house of the Dutch parliament are called the Second Chamber of the States-General and the First Chamber of the States-General, respectively, which is a nice bit of historical continuity. Moreover, the tendency for modern Dutch governments to be coalitions might be an echo of the consensus-driven politics of the 17th century too…?

    And thanks too for that link about the ‘Turner and the Masters’ exhibition. The whole subject of how English painters were inspired by ‘old masters’, including Dutch 17th-century ones, is fascinating.

    Actually I am rooting for van de Velde there: I like the delicate balance in his paintings between realism and treatment (or factual depiction and proto-romanticism, if you like). But I totally appreciate how Turner was inspired by that and ran with it in his version :)

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