The artist, Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom, was born in Haarlem in 1566, according to van Mander, and was the son of the sculptor and ceramist Cornelis Hendricksen. Initially he earned his living as a painter of Delftware. As he came from an artisticfamily he undoubtedly received theoretical, as well as practical knowledge. Following this, he travelled extensively in Spain, Italy, France and Poland. In Italy Vroom became acquainted with the painter Paulus Bril, who encouraged him to start painting and gave him lessons. Between 1585 and 1587 he was in the service of Cardinal Ferdinand de’ Medici. His journey back to the Dutch Republic took him through Venice, Milan, Turin, Lyon, Paris and Rouen.
Hendrick Cornelis Vroom had an adverturous life and according to his own anecdotes, was shipwrecked at the Portuguese Los Barongos, when he was travelling with a number of religious paintings to Seville. The paintings washed up a he managed to convince the monks at the local convent that he was not English, as the 80 Years War was well on its way. Vroom put his adventure of the shipwreck on paint and sold them on the spot. Another anecdote of his life, according to his own stories, is that he fell in a ravine on the col of St. Denis but was stuck in a bush while his pants froze on a rock. You can read of his many adventures in the Artist Biography of Carel van Mander from 1604.
On his final return to Haarlem, he developed his career as a marine painter. Van Mander describes and explains the origins of the new genre of painting as follos.’ Returned home he [Vroom] continued, on the advice of other painters there, making pieces of ships, and he gradually go better and better making them. And since there is much sea-faring in Holland, the public also started to take pleasure in these little ships.’
Hendrick Cornelisz pioneered marine painting as a specialist form as the Dutch rose to become a leading maritime power. He painted historical battles, ships’ portraits and vieuws of maritime towns like Hoorn, Amsterdam and Vlissingen.Furthermore he had extensive knowledge of the buiding and equipment of ships of the early seventeenth century trade- and warships. Vroom worked widely in Europe and his importance was internationally recognized.
According to Vroom’s biographer, Karel van Mander, Vroom’s fame rested not only on prestigious commissions for images of important battles and political events at sea, but, also, hailed Vroom for his attention to detail as well as his depiction of nature and scenery: ‘Vroom is an excellent master in this respect, in that he has not only much understanding of ships, good rigging, ropes and tackle, pennants, sails and other things of that kind, but he is also excellent in all other incidentals such as pieces of ground, landscape, rocks, trees, skies, water, waves, castles, villages, towns, figures, fishes and other things which accompany and enrich his ships.’
Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom is regarded as the father of marine painting and he pioneered the painting of naval scenes and battles in a new style, showing careful attention to naval detail and rigging. His highly detailed depictions soon brought him fame, enabling him to ask very high prices for them. Van Mander also says he was highly productive, with the result he earned a fortune from his work. Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom was also convinced of his own talent and fame. Just for comparison, in 1621, he asked for a commission of 6000 guilders while Rembrandt received 1600 guilders for his Nacht Wacht (Nightwatch) in 1642.
Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom also started making tapestery designs and he got a commission to design six unique tapestries titled ‘Strijd op de Zeeuwse Stroomen’ for the States of Zealand, to commemorate some of the resounding victories on the Spanish Fleet in the years 1572 – 1576. They are preserved in the Abbey of Middelburg.
In the 1590s, he was commissioned to design a series of ten tapestries for the English Lord Admiral, Lord Howard of Effingham (Earl of Nottingham from 1596), to commemorate his victory over the Spanish Armada. From 1650 these hung in the House of Lords in Westminster and were destroyed in the fire of 1834. Although they are recorded in engravings, made by John Pine, in 1739.
Vroom pioneered marine painting as a specialist form as the Dutch rose to become a leading maritime power. He worked widely in Europe and his importance was internationally recognized. He is regarded as the father of marine painting and he pioneered the painting of naval scenes and battles in a new style, showing careful attention to naval detail and rigging. Vroom died in Haarlem in 1640. He is generally hailed to be the first ‘Dutch’ marine artist. He outlived his pupil, Jan Porcellis, by eight years.