UNDER THE SPELL OF THE SEA at Museum Bredius in The Hague

Detail from Calm Sea with English Ship by W. van der Velde Junior


Museum Bredius – the charming, small museum opposite the Mauritshuis in The Hague – currently offers visitors a unique exhibition. It shows over sixty works from the golden age of Dutch marine painting. Think of artists like Van de Velde, De Vlieger, Van Goyen, Storck, Verbeeck, Backhuysen, Vroon – and plenty others.

All exhibited works except one, are from a private collection. The one exception is a painting displayed on an easel in one of the back-rooms on the museum’s first floor. Abraham Bredius, the Mauritshuis’ first director, bought it decades ago.

The other 67 works displayed on the museum’s ground and first floor, were collected by Mr. Anthony Inder Rieden. Before moving to Great Britain in 1965, the beach near Haarlem cast a spell on him. Once in London, he started collecting art. Advised by his The Hague friend, art-dealer John Hoogsteder, Mr. Inder Rieden focused on Dutch marines.

It took years to create the collection. Now, it left Great Britain for the first time specifically for this exhibition. As this is a private collection, this is a unique chance to see and study these works. Though three of the paintings are usually on loan to other museums, it remains to be seen if any of the others will ever delight visitors at future exhibitions.  

You may well wonder: seascapes, ships? My first thoughts too. Nevertheless, after visiting, my advise is to just enter the first room on the ground floor. The setting is perfect – especially on a sunny day. The paintings are simply stunning against the yellow-gold shimmery background!

At the museum’s desk, visitors receive a small booklet with information in Dutch. Museum staff assured me, an audio tour in English will soon be available too. Moreover, the English catalogue, which consists of four parts, is available throughout the museum. Just wander over to one of the tables in most rooms and browse through one of the four parts of the catalog which took nearly 14 years to compile.  

Among the paintings are a few which show important events from Dutch naval history. Take the ships returning from the second voyage to Indonesia, in 1599. This triggered the foundation of the Dutch VOC.

Of course, there are real and imaginary sea-battles including a work showing two ships giving each other a broadside during the Battle of Lepanto. Or take the scene depicting an incident during the Battle of Gibraltar, or a mock battle held to amuse Czar Peter the Great.

Not all scenes focus on battles though. There are calm seas, stormy ones, thunderstorms building in the distance while ships are trying to reach safety, fishing fleets, ships loading and passengers on ferries – not to mention a little boy doing something we will not discuss here. Painting to be found in the first room on the ground floor. 

Falling in love with Dutch Golden Age marines? You are not the first one. Many of these works once belonged to important collections. Think of the Duc de Choiseul, or the British branch of the Rothschild family.

As for the impressive Dutch skies? Mr. Inder Rieden asked German meteorologist Franz Ossing to have a look at the paintings and their weather conditions. Are clouds, sky, weather conditions painted correctly and which season is shown? Surprise: many of the masters actually not painted all the different ships minutely. They also included correct weather conditions and skies.

Not all though; some works contain artistic imagination and interpretations. If you want to know which paintings, just go and find out yourself!     Kate     12th December 2019

The exhibition continues until the 22nd March 2020