(Leiden 1611 – 1693 London)

The Watte Convoÿer (tidal flat convoy) ‘Valck’ accompanies a small fleet of Wijdt ships to the port of West Terschelling. In the distance ‘Brandaris’, the oldest lighthouse of the Wadden Islands, built in 1594

Pen drawing (quill pen) and brown ink on ivory prepared table set, 20.6 x 30.3 cm

Signed lr … V.Velde

Approx. 1645


  1. Leeflang & G Luijten , Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617), Drawings, Prints and Paintings , , Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo (Ohio) USA p.72, nos. 20 and 21, p. 74, Nos. 23 and 24

A rare pen painting (quill pen) on an ivory colored prepared table set by Willem van de Velde the Elder, the greatest naval draftsman of the Dutch Golden Age


Willem van de Velde the Elder, who with his son the younger Willem is one of the best European sea artists, was born in 1611 in Leiden. With a naval captain as a father and a brother who was a merchant ship captain, it was hardly surprising that he developed a love for the sea at an early age. He is known to accompany his father on a military transport as a young boy, and there may have been other journeys as well. He married in Leiden in 1631, and in 1633 his wife gave birth to their second son, the painter Willem van de Velde de Jonge.

The earliest surviving drawing by Van de Velde dates from 1638, but by then he had probably been working as an artist for some time. Several engravings of his drawings were published in 1640, including a portrait of the Aemilia , the flagship of the famous Dutch admiral Maarten Harpertsz. Trumpet. Father and son worked as a team for much of their lives, drawing the father’s drawings and ship portraits

served as the basis for the son’s paintings. Willem de Jonge always interpreted his father’s drawings very freely, and we do not know of a single drawing that was literally copied into a painting. Van de Velde’s drawings and pen paintings of historical naval events are based on eyewitness accounts or on his own first-hand experience, as he observed naval battles from his own galliot or from a ship loaned to him by the government.

Willem van de Velde the Elder loved to travel. He was away from home from 1660 to 1662 and there is evidence that he visited England, where he may have paved the way for his emigration with his son in 1672. King Charles II encouraged Dutch artists to settle in his realm, and he must have been interested in naval painters, for England was one of the great naval powers. The Van de Veldes apparently found everything to their liking, for they remained in England until their deaths in 1693 and 1707.

The famous draftsman, printmaker and painter Hendrik Goltzius (Wurzburg 1526-1583) often made his beautiful drawings and prints on ivory-coloured prepared table etchings. Paper or parchment was treated with a coating that dried to a beautiful ivory color. Van de Velde the Elder must have been familiar with Goltzius’ technique, and this may have inspired him to make at least one pen painting on a dining table.

The pen paintings of Willem van de Velde the Elder are the predecessors of his later pen paintings (grisailles) on canvas or panel. The pen painting in brown ink is made with a quill pen. A quill has a hard shaft that can be easily cut to a sharp point.

Pen painting was an extremely difficult and time-consuming process and it is therefore not surprising that only a few of the many hundreds of artists from the Dutch Golden Age practiced this skill successfully and turned it into an art.

Willem van de Velde has depicted a rare type of ship in this drawing – a ‘Watte Convoÿer’ (wade convoy). At first glance, the ship is reminiscent of a Statenjacht, but the stern does not look like a spacious saloon is hidden in it. It is also much more heavily armed than a Statenjacht. The rigging consists of a standing gaff rig with only one extra small mizzen mast. A flying falcon is depicted on the stern with the name of the ship, Valck, below.

In times of war or the threat of war, mudflat convoys would load freighters, in this case wide barges , to guide them through the shallows. They were well-armed coasters, not destined for the sea, but doing useful work in the tidal inlets.

In the painting we see six wide ships under full sail; the nearest one waves a flag with the city coat of arms (a tower) of his home port Alkmaar. Due to its shape, the wide ship was ideally suited for the Zuiderzee and other open waters, such as the Waddenzee. In 1980 a wide vessel was excavated in the dry bottom of the Zuiderzee. It was almost eighteen meters long and fifteen meters wide. The ship must have sunk around 1620 and the preserved wreck and its contents can be viewed in the National Historic Ship Center in Lelystad.

Our pen painting of a mudflat convoy is important for maritime history. Only one other depiction of this ship type is known and therefore a valuable addition to our knowledge of the ship types from the seventeenth century.


De Brandaris is the oldest lighthouse of the Wadden Islands, built in 1594. The tower has four floors and is almost fifty-five meters high. The medieval structure is named after Saint Brendan, an Irish mystic and navigator, as well as the village of Saint Brandiriskercke. The light signals were made by lighting fires. It was destroyed by fire in 1666, at a time when the Second Anglo-Dutch War was at its height. The English overran the island and burned down the village of West Terschelling. After the fire, the tower was restored. In 1910, electric light with a capacity of 3,600,000 candles was installed. In World War II, the light was extinguished and it was feared that the tower would be blown up. Fortunately, the Brandaris survived that threat as well.


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