Baron Nathaniel von Rothschild
Baron Alphonse von Rothschild
European private collection
The Most Eminent Dutch Naval Painter of Naval Battles of Their Majesties King Charles the Second and King James the Second
Willem van de Velde the Younger and his father, Willem van de Velde the Elder, were two of the best sea painters in Europe. Willem the Younger was born in Leiden in 1633. Shortly afterwards, the family moved to a house on the IJ in Amsterdam. His father had meanwhile acquired fame as a skilled and accurate naval draftsman and maker of pen paintings. Willem van de Velde the Elder was the most important artist in this fascinating technique. It was probably Willem van de Velde the Younger’s father who taught him how to accurately depict a ship. He then apprenticed to the famous Simon de Vlieger and learned painting. At the age of 18 he was already working independently – his earliest dated painting is 1651 – but from 1652 father and son worked together. The immense importance of the Van de Veldes lies not only in the development of marine painting; they are also significant as compilers of historical data.
In 1672, father and son decided to try their luck in England in the service of King Charles II. The King and his brother James, Duke of York, were so pleased with the services of the two foremost marine painters of the time that father and son were given a large house at Greenwich and a studio built for them in the Queen’s House there.
Van de Velde the Elder continued to work until his death in 1693. Willem the Younger remained in England after his father’s death, although he visited the Republic from time to time. He died in 1707 and, like his father, was buried in St James’s, Piccadilly.
In a calm sea a large fleet is anchored or preparing to set sail. Given the large number of large ships, we have to look here at the ‘Lands Vloot’, the Dutch navy, most likely in Texel waters. There is a lot to see. On the left is a quay, a small flat-bottomed boat with two passengers. Behind it is another, sailing towards us. The ship beyond is flying a large flag; it is a luxury ship – a pleasure yacht. It has one mast with mizzen rig. In the middle, a dinghy may be carrying a few sailors to the fleet.
The two ships on the right are galliots. The whole scene is depicted under a beautiful cloudy Dutch sky.
The States General of the United Netherlands placed a galliot at the disposal of Willem van de Velde the Elder; from this he could draw ships and naval battles from his own observation. For an eyewitness account of the Battle of Sole Bay (1672), the States General ordered ‘a galliot captain named Jan Lely van de galliot Hollandia to take the person of Willem van de Velde, ship’s draftsman, on board and go forward with him. ‘ .
These quick but accurate sketches were later often developed into paintings. Van de Velde the Elder was already a reporter before there was such a profession. Willem van de Velde the Younger never used a galliot, and when father and son lived and worked in England, Willem van de Velde the Elder never used one either; the English monarch did not permit them to be on board a galliot at the time of the naval battles.