(Leiden 1633 – Westminster 1707)

The Battle of Kijkduin on August 21, 1673 with the English Vice-Admiral Sir John Harman on the London and the Dutch Vice-Admiral Johan de Liefde on the Vrijheid

Oil on canvas, 111 x 138 cm

Signed: WVV

Dated: ca. 1675


Likely commissioned by Sir John Harman. Believed to have been bought by James Christie (1730-1803) and by descent through the family until offered; Sale, Christie’s, London, 14 November 1997, lot 64, Private collection, Great Britain.



Norwich, Castle Museum, Norfolk Maritime History, 1957, no. 2 as ‘Battle of Solebay, May 28, 1672.

The painting was in the collection of James Christie in 1957 when it was lent to the exhibition.

Illustrated on page 91 of the catalogue.


The painting

A sky with much cumulus cloud, heavily laden with the smoke of the battle; a bright sun and a moderate breeze from the left of the picture.

Large on the left is the English three-decker, the London, starboard quarter view, with the wind in the port quarter. She is under fore course with the clews hauled up, main course half clewed-up and much torn, fore mast-headed and drawing, the main topsail half lowered and shaking; the mizzen showing behind the red ensign is apparently falling and the mizzen topsail is loosed on the cap. She has a red flag at the fore as vice-admiral of the squadron. She is firing her middle deck guns on the starboard side. The principal ship, the London is freely and accurately painted. The stern decoration, the ensign and the masts and rigging and sails have all the variety and accuracy of the work by the Younger. The two round gun ports on the stern of the English ship, at the middle deck level, are close to the rudder-head.

In the right foreground is a boat picking up survivors from a floating wreck of a mast. Beyond in the right middle-distance is a Dutch ship port bow view, a flag at the fore and a pendant in the main; the fore course is lowered almost to the forecastle and the foremast appears to be falling to starboard and the main topmast to port.

In the left middle-distance is a Dutch ship before the wind, her main topsail and the common Dutch flag at the main just showing. On her starboard bow is a smaller ship with a Dutch jack and striped pendant at the main; she is almost concealed by smoke from het starboard guns. There are other ships in the distance.

The painting is a ship portrait of the London at the battle of Texel 1673 engaged in battle with the damaged Vrijheid (80 pieces) of the Dutch Vice-Admiral Johan de Liefde, on the right in the middle distance. It is in the correct proportion to the English ship, the London (100 pieces), built in 1670 on the bottom of what remained of the Loyal London after her sinking by the Dutch in the Medway in 1667, on the left.

Other details of the background ships would also be correct for the battle of Texel. The Dutch ship with the common Dutch flag at the main would be Aert van Nes in the Eendracht (72 guns) as second-in-command to the Ruyter; and the red flag just below the Eendracht‘s topsail yard would the flag of Sir John Chichely rear-admiral of the Red on the Charles.

Sir Eward Spragge was vice-admiral of the Red on the London at the battle of Solebay in 1672, but he was promoted soon after the battle to admiral of the blue, before the Van de Veldes came to England, and is unlikely to have commissioned a painting of the London when he was vice-admiral; he was drowned at the battle of Texel.

In 1673, Sir John Harman was vice-admiral of the Red at the battles of Schooneveld and the Texel on the London.

It was at the battle of Texel that the Dutch admiral Jan (or Johan) de Liefde was killed in battle on the Vrijheid, when he was vice-admiral with flag at the fore and pendant at the main in De Ruyter’s squadron, which was heavily engaged with the English Red squadron. It was his main naval victory on the Dutch.

The painting of the battle of Texel by Willem van de Velde the Younger has been worked out exceptionally well with a great deal of detail in a well-balanced composition. The attention in the painting is drawn to the London, making it almost certainly a commissioned by Harman.

Around 1672-73, Van de Velde began painting on a large scale and it would be one of his first large commissions in his English period.

The fierce naval battle that has been recorded in Dutch history books as the “Battle of Kijkduin” is the only military encounter from the English Wars that was observable from the coast. The location is not the town of the same name near The Hague, but the high Kijkduin near Den Helder.


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