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William van de Velde II, Dutch, 1633-1707: Ships and Fishing Boats in a Calm Sea, c. 1660-70 

Willem van de Velde II worked close­ly with his father, the equal­ly noted marine artist Willem van de Velde I (1611 – 1693), for near­ly four decades until the lat­ter’s death, after which he con­tin­ued the fam­i­ly firm”, as it were, into the early eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry.1

Although the divi­sions of labor were not strict, Willem the Elder was a self-described marine drafts­man (scheep­steke­naar) who made detailed draw­ings of bat­tles and his­tor­i­cal events that he often wit­nessed in per­son, while his son trained as a painter and spent much of his career pro­duc­ing paint­ings based on his own and his father’s detailed designs and stud­ies.2

Willem the Elder also spent time in the stu­dio mak­ing his dis­tinc­tive black-and-white pen paint­ings” (pen­schilder­i­jen), which are cel­e­brat­ed as vir­tu­osic dis­plays, but his son is now assessed as the even greater artis­tic tal­ent for his bril­liant­ly achieved full-color paint­ings.3

Both artists are noted for their immense­ly detailed and accu­rate knowl­edge of ves­sel types, rig­ging, and sail­ing con­di­tions. Although his son no doubt joined him at sea on occa­sion, Willem the Elder appears to have been the one ven­tur­ing out more often, per­haps to spare his son the dan­gers, which were con­sid­er­able, given that he often record­ed bat­tles from a galjoot (a small­er ves­sel that could be sailed or rowed) to doc­u­ment the com­bat as close­ly as pos­si­ble, some­times even pluck­ing sur­vivors out of the water along the way.

Both father and son were inde­fati­ga­ble drafts­men, leav­ing behind a body of work that num­bers today well over 2,500 sheets between them.4

The major­i­ty of these are held by just two insti­tu­tions: the Nation­al Mar­itime Muse­um in Green­wich, and the Muse­um Boi­j­mans Van Beunin­gen in Rot­ter­dam. The cat­a­logues of these two col­lec­tions are indis­pens­able tools for the study of draw­ings by the Van de Veldes, though many issues remain in terms of dis­tin­guish­ing the father’s hand from the son’s.5

Works that can secure­ly be given to Willem van de Velde the Younger include those ini­tialed with W.V.V J (typ­i­cal­ly leav­ing off the peri­ods after the last two let­ters, and the J for Junior), found also on the present draw­ing.6

His rea­son for sign­ing his draw­ings has caused some con­fu­sion, since it has long been assumed that the entire­ty of the drawn cor­pus served sole­ly for stu­dio pur­pos­es, either as ref­er­ence mate­r­i­al or occa­sion­al­ly as prospec­tus draw­ings to show poten­tial patrons.7

The noted author­i­ty M. S. Robin­son sug­gest­ed that Willem the Younger may have signed some draw­ings at a later date dur­ing peri­ods of finan­cial strug­gle in order to sell them.8

Anoth­er con­jec­ture is that he was try­ing to make a dis­tinc­tion between his draw­ings and those of his father dur­ing a divi­sion of stu­dio mate­ri­als.9

Far more like­ly, how­ev­er, is that many of these sheets were meant as autonomous works in the first place, and that they served the live­ly col­lec­tors’ mar­ket in draw­ings that flour­ished in these years. The Peck draw­ing, like many oth­ers, relates to no known paint­ing and is best con­sid­ered as a fin­ished work in its own right.

The boat in the fore­ground on the right appears to be a small fish­ing ves­sel (rather than a weyschuit, as men­tioned in the pre­vi­ous lit­er­a­ture) that may have once been a sloop belong­ing to a larg­er ship before it was repur­posed for fish­ing.10

It seems to be get­ting ready to weigh anchor on a calm morn­ing to begin the day’s work. A pair of large three-mast ships is vis­i­ble in the dis­tance, as well as a num­ber of boats in the mid­dle ground. The slight­ly ele­vat­ed shore­line to the left bears a church-like struc­ture in an uniden­ti­fied vil­lage. The view offered here demon­strates Van de Velde’s dis­cern­ing atten­tion to per­spec­tive. Rob Ruurs demon­strat­ed that Willem the Younger took great care in pro­duc­ing pro­por­tion­al­ly accu­rate per­spec­tive in his seascape draw­ings, some­times leav­ing vis­i­ble his orthog­o­nal lines cre­at­ed for this pur­pose.11

If Van de Velde had pre­cise knowl­edge of the heights of cer­tain types of ships, which we assume he did, then he could pro­duce cor­rect per­spec­ti­val rela­tion­ships using just the hori­zon line with the method Ruurs detailed.12

An inter­est­ing nov­el­ty of this par­tic­u­lar draw­ing is that the hori­zon is almost entire­ly obscured, per­haps as a means of mak­ing his method less lit­er­al, or per­haps for con­scious artis­tic effect. The branch of land to the left, for exam­ple, extends out into the water in a long thin arm that con­ceals the hulls of the two cen­ter­most boats (the one just to the left of them sit­ting at an angle with its sails down is pre­sum­ably beached on this arm). He made the hori­zon line on the right clev­er­ly ambigu­ous by the near­ly con­tigu­ous hulls of the remain­ing ves­sels. This cre­ates a sub­tle and dynam­ic inter­play between the pre­sumed hori­zon and ele­ments of the composition.

Since a reli­able chronol­o­gy of the draw­ings by the Van de Veldes has yet to be devel­oped, the pre­vi­ous­ly sug­gest­ed date range of circa 1662 – 65 for this sheet is plau­si­ble but not defin­i­tive.13

The han­dling of the wash, style, and con­cept does com­pare well with other draw­ings that M. S. Robin­son and oth­ers have loose­ly grouped as belong­ing to the years around 1665.14

Recent research into Rem­brandt’s water­marks, how­ev­er, has revealed that this same coun­ter­mark found on the present sheet (a sin­gle-wire PB) can be reli­ably dated to the mid-1650s.15

There­fore, we should not rule out the pos­si­bil­i­ty that this work was made some­what ear­li­er, more toward the out­set of Willem the Younger’s career. More­over, in the mid-1660s, both the Van de Veldes appear to have been more pre­oc­cu­pied with mil­i­tary activ­i­ties relat­ed to the Sec­ond Anglo-Dutch War rather than pro­sa­ic sub­jects like this one.16

Regard­less of the nar­row date range, the Peck draw­ing belongs to the first peri­od of Willem the Younger’s career in the Nether­lands, pre­vi­ous to both artists’ move to Eng­land in 1672. There, his style became loos­er and his sub­ject mat­ter more dra­mat­ic, no doubt to cater to chang­ing tastes and a new set of patrons.

End Notes

  1. For a recent study of the artist fam­i­ly, see Daalder 2016 (an Eng­lish trans­la­tion of the author’s 2013 PhD dissertation).

  2. For con­sid­er­a­tions of the divi­sion of labor in the fam­i­ly stu­dio, see Daalder 2016, 65 – 83; and Weber 1979.

  3. See Robin­son 1990 for the defin­i­tive cat­a­logue of paint­ings by both father and son.

  4. See Daalder 2016, 19, who notes that a cau­tious esti­mate” of draw­ings in pub­lic col­lec­tions exceeds 2,500, to which can be added oth­ers still in pri­vate collections.

  5. Robin­son 1958 – 74; and Robin­son & Weber 1979.

  6. Robin­son 1958 – 74, vol. 1, 25. The ini­tials stand for Willem van [de] Velde [de] Jonge (the Younger).

  7. Daalder 2016, 21; and Weber 1979, 153.

  8. Robin­son 1958 – 74, vol. 1, 25.

  9. Daalder 2016, 207 (under Chap­ter 2, note 11).

  10. With thanks to Rem­melt Daalder for mak­ing this sug­ges­tion. The pre­vi­ous iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the boat as a weyschuit was made in Chapel Hill, Itha­ca & Worces­ter 1999 – 2001, 104.

  11. Ruurs 1983.

  12. Ruurs 1983, 198-99.

  13. Chapel Hill, Itha­ca & Worces­ter 1999 – 2001, 104.

  14. See Robin­son 1958 – 74, vol. 1, nos. 196 – 98, 203, vol. 2, nos. 932, 935, 937 – 39. For other draw­ings that have been loose­ly grouped under the date of circa 1665, see Paris 1989, no. 52; Broos & Schapel­houman 1993, no. 153; Lon­don, Paris & Cam­bridge 2002 – 03, no. 79; and Robin­son & Ander­son 2016, no. 91a – b.

  15. For a near­ly iden­ti­cal water­mark in Rembrandt’s prints, see Hin­ter­d­ing 2006, vol. 2, 87 (Coun­ter­mark PB-B-a); illus­trat­ed in vol. 3, 142. It occurs on the first states of prints dated 1654 and 1656.

  16. Weber 1978; and Weber 1979.