Choose a background colour
Pen in black ink with gray wash over graphite; framing lines in brown ink.
4 × 12 1⁄2 in. (10.2 × 31.8 cm)
Recto, lower left, in pen and black ink, signed by the artist with his initials, W.V.V J.; verso, lower left, in black ink (eighteenth or nineteenth century), lot: I, center, in pencil, 28, and upper left, an unidentified paraph.
- Chain Lines:
- Horizontal, 23 – 25 mm.
- Countermark PB, similar to Churchill, no. 7, Arms of Amsterdam; Gaudriault 1995, no. 4233, Arms of Amsterdam; Robinson 1958 – 74, vol. 1, 205, 213, no. 8, vol. 2, 146, Arms of Amsterdam.
Sale, Christie’s, London, 29 June 1971, lot 282; sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 6 February 1997, lot 18; Sheldon and Leena Peck, Boston (Lugt 3847); gift to the Ackland Art Museum, inv. no. 2017.1.89.
F. Robinson in Chapel Hill, Ithaca & Worcester 1999 – 2001, 104 – 05, no. 35.
- Ackland Catalogue:
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.
For a recent study of the artist family, see Daalder 2016 (an English translation of the author’s 2013 PhD dissertation).
See Robinson 1990 for the definitive catalogue of paintings by both father and son.
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.
Robinson 1958 – 74, vol. 1, 25. The initials stand for Willem van [de] Velde [de] Jonge (the Younger).
Robinson 1958 – 74, vol. 1, 25.
Daalder 2016, 207 (under Chapter 2, note 11).
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.
Ruurs 1983, 198-99.
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.
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.