NAVAL BATTLES, STORMS, SHIP PORTRAITS AND WINDLESS DAYS
First retrospective exhibition of marine painters Van de Velde The Maritime Museum is coming with a major scoop this year with a retrospective of the artists Willem van de Velde the Elder (1611-1693) and his son Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707). In their time they already belonged to the absolute pinnacle of 17th-century sea painting. The Willem van de Velde & Son exhibition highlights the family business of the Van de Veldes, their eye for detail and atmosphere, their enormous craftsmanship and the ‘war correspondentship’ of father Willem. The artworks range from rough pencil sketches to meticulous, painting-sized drawings and from dramatic scenes of storms and naval battles, soothing ship portraits to monumental tapestries. Never before has the Maritime Museum brought together so many objects by both painters from its own rich collection and on loan.
Willem van de Velde the Elder and his son Willem van de Velde the Younger possessed an enormous dose of virtuoso talent, inventiveness and entrepreneurship. This partly determined an important part of their success. Both had their own specialism: the father excelled in extremely detailed pen drawings and the son in atmospheric oil paintings. Their entrepreneurial spirit even provided the Van de Veldes with an international network: they worked for admirals, princes and kings. When the Dutch art market collapsed in the ‘Disaster Year’ of 1672, father and son accepted an old invitation from the English King Charles II to work at his court. The Van de Veldes entered the royal service and were given a studio in the palace of Greenwich near London. They were also extremely successful in England.
The time of the Van de Veldes was dominated by three Anglo-Dutch wars, which were mainly fought at sea between sizeable war fleets. These naval battles provided inspiration for a stream of paintings and drawings. Famous are the meticulous ‘pen paintings’ by Willem van de Velde the Elder, which were already indispensable in the collections of collectors in the 17th century. A pen painting is a drawing in ink but on canvas or panel and in the format of a painting. The exhibition shows a number of impressive examples, including The Battle of Livorno (Rijksmuseum) and The Conquest of the Royal Prince during the Four Days’ Battle, 1664 (Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe).
Willem van de Velde the Elder himself was often present at major battles at sea. For this purpose he was given a small sailing ship (‘galliot’) in which he was sailed around by a skipper, between the huge warships. He sketched the combat actions on paper and also made notes in order to be able to work it out in detail later in his studio. Good examples are the Dutch war fleet at anchor in the Skagerrak, October 27, 1658 and War-martial on the flagship Eendracht on the Vlierede, October 7, 1658 (both collection Maritime Museum). On Episode from the Naval Battle in the Sound (c. 1660) Van de Velde’s galliot can be seen on the left, sailing between the countless ships engaged in fierce battle (Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar).
Smooth and savage bars
Willem van de Velde the Younger learned to draw and observe from his father. Unlike his father, he chose brush and oil paint instead of pen and ink. Son Willem mastered the entire genre of sea painting. From ships anchored when there is no wind or sailing out of the harbor under a light breeze to imposing cloudy skies, dramatic waves and billowing sails that are about to snap. The exhibition shows many beautiful examples from mirror-smooth water features on windless days (Ships in the Rede, c. 1658, Mauritshuis) to savage scenes in which the ships try to withstand heavy storms (Three ships in a gale, 1673, National Gallery, London) or have already been damaged and have lost their mast (A ship on the high seas in a raging storm, known as ‘The Windstorm’, 1680, Rijksmuseum Gallery of Honour).
The painting studio of the Van de Veldes has existed for over fifty years. Their productivity during that period was unprecedented: they produced an estimated 2,500 drawings and 800 paintings. Their works of art can now be found in the collections of all major art and maritime museums in the world. The work of the Van de Veldes symbolizes the heyday of Dutch marine painting. At the same time, father and son Willem van de Velde inspired many generations of Dutch, British and French marine painters after them.
The exhibition continues until 27th March 2022
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