Marine painter David Kleyne was the scion of a clan of executioners, yet the largest family of headsmen that ever set ground in the Netherlands. His father Hendrik took the position of hangman in Bergen op Zoom, in succession of his father-in-law. David’s uncles, great uncles, cousins and nephews used to torture and carry out death sentences against a day wage of six guilders. They operated through the whole of the Netherlands: Haarlem, The Hague, Breda, ’s-Hertogenbosch and Flushing. Mentioning the name ‘Kleyne’ was often enough force to extort confessions from a suspect.
However, scourge and executioner’s sword were not desired by the young David. With the death of his father, he recommends his cousin to take the position of executioner. Choosing the life of a Master Painter, David had to be content with a remote income. He accepted work as a wallpaper painter and he presumably assisted Jan van Os in painting marines. His work is distinguished by a keen observation of ships. With his death in 1805 he left a booklet containing ‘A collection of […] vessels of different Types / drawn by the sea and ship painter D. Kleyne’. Some of the drawings from this album are kept in the Maritime Museum of Rotterdam. Altogether the collection is an important document for interpreting the different types of ships in use around 1800. David Kleyne and his fellow townsman Engel Hoogerheyden are considered the most important chroniclers of Zeeland’s maritime history around 1800.
An important work by Kleyne in the Scheepvaartmuseum, Amsterdam, (ex collection Kunsthandel Rob Kattenburg BV) shows the French invasion in Flushing, 1795. The French frigate in the present painting flies a flag that was shortly in use between 1790 and 1794. The ship must therefore have entered Dutch waters before the actual invasion of 1795. The frigate Ariel (24 guns) was part of a small French squadron that aimed to free the passage to Antwerp over the river Scheldt. The operation under general Charles-François Dumouriez took place on 20/21 March 1793, the squadron existed out of the frigate Ariel, the cannon brig St. Lucie (14 guns) and several armed fishing-boats. It took the Dutch little effort to defeat the enemy. 57 Frenchmen were taken captive. The Ariel was brought into a local estuary under surveillance of two yachts of the Zeeland Admiralty.