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Abraham de Verwer, Dutch, c. 1585-1650: Ships on a Calm Sea, c. 1640-50
Pen and brush in reddish-brown ink with touches in gray ink on ledger paper; framing lines in black ink.
5 15⁄16 × 12 1⁄2 in. (15.1 × 31.7 cm)
Recto, lower right in pen and brown ink, signed by the artist, verwer; verso, center in pencil, A H Verwer, Dordrecht 1646, upper left, Verwer henry Hubert, lower left, Verws 2247⁄11, far right, 2247, and upper right, N3147/Rowlandson wash line.
- Chain Lines:
- Horizontal, 27-28 mm.
Possibly A. Chariatte, died before 1923, London (Lugt 88a); possibly his sale, Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge, London, 30 April 1923, part of lot 84 (group of six drawings attributed to Willem van de Velde); Tobias Christ, 1888 – 1946, Basel; his sale, Sotheby’s, London, 9 April 1981, lot 47; dealer, Robert Noortman, London and Maastricht; sale, Christie’s, Amsterdam, 25 November 1992, lot 614; Sheldon and Leena Peck, Boston (Lugt 3847); gift to the Ackland Art Museum, inv. no. 2017.1.92.
Henkel 1931, 119, pl. 47; Chudzikowski 1957, 671, fig. 10; Plomp 1997, 422, under no. 498; F. Robinson in Chapel Hill, Ithaca & Worcester 1999 – 2001, 108 – 09, no. 37; Koblenz, Göttingen, Oldenburg & Frankfurt 2000, 182, under no. 70; The Hague & Washington 2008 – 09, 190, fig. 46.1, under no. 46; Sadkov 2010, 268, under no. 426; Turner & White 2014, 338 – 39, under no. 407.
- Ackland Catalogue:
A study in atmosphere and spatial effects, Abraham de Verwer’s seascape drawing demonstrates his technical skill as a draftsman. The low, long horizon line and empty sky impart a sense of vastness while the minutely rendered town in the distance suggests great depth. To convey contrast and form, and to perhaps indicate the light of dawn, De Verwer subtly combined reddish-brown ink with touches of gray wash.
This is the only drawing in the Peck Collection to be made on ledger or cashbook paper with pre-ruled lines. Visible on the back of the sheet, a printed red line may have helped De Verwer generate such a precise horizon line.
Although less well-known today, and certainly deserving of more scholarly attention, Abraham de Verwer was a successful marine artist who produced large and dramatic seascape paintings, topographic sketches, and finished drawings of great visual power. De Verwer started his career as a cabinetmaker in Haarlem before becoming an Amsterdam-based artist, one who traveled extensively in northern Europe and created a number of views of French cities in particular.1
In the Netherlands, he counted among his patrons the Admiralty of Amsterdam, which commissioned a large Battle of Gibraltar for a significant sum. The Prince of Orange, Frederik Hendrik (1584 – 1647), purchased two of his historically significant paintings of the Louvre in 1639.2
De Verwer’s surviving corpus of drawings is modest, but groups of them can be found in the British Museum, London, and in the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig, many of which are topographic sketches from his travels.3
For the present work, De Verwer created a sense of vast space by employing a long, flat horizon that sits low in the composition. The minutely rendered town in the distance reinforces the sensation of deep recession across the water, as well as the progressively lighter and thinner horizontal brushstrokes. The empty sky enhances the vastness of space through its complete blankness, a technique already in use by Haarlem landscape artists of De Verwer’s generation such as Esaias van de Velde (1587 – 1630). Despite the inherent calm conveyed by the level sea and cloudless sky, enough wind blows to fill several of the sails, and the boat in the center foreground appears to be underway at a good pace.
Given his use of a distinctive reddish-brown ink (with touches of gray for subtle contrast and structure), it is possible De Verwer intended a twilight scene here, perhaps dawn when calm seas and open skies predominate in coastal waters early in the day. He used the same appealing tone of ink for a drawing in Moscow with the same dimensions and a similarly placed horizon line and open sky.4
This unsigned sheet in Moscow has had attribution issues in the past, being first ascribed to Allaert van Everdingen (1621 – 1675) and then to Pieter Coopse (c. 1640 – 1673) before Charles Dumas and Michiel Plomp each suggested, correctly, De Verwer.5
The attribution can be confirmed with the Peck drawing, which bears an autograph signature (trimmed but just visible in the lower right). These two appear to be companion drawings made around the same time. De Verwer made another drawing of comparable dimensions using reddish-brown ink that was formerly in the Ingram Collection, its present whereabouts unknown.6
De Verwer also executed a number of watercolor drawings of similar dimensions and subject matter: two in the Fondation Custodia, one in Göttingen, one in the Teylers Museum, and one in a private collection (ex-Hofstede de Groot) in the Netherlands.7
Clouds appear in the latter two works, but these may have been added later.8
It is notable that De Verwer drew most of this group on ledger or cashbook paper (kasboekpapier).9
He also used this type of paper with pre-ruled lines for the present sheet, with one of the reddish lines clearly visible on the verso.10
De Verwer’s reasons for adopting this paper are unclear, but we can probably reject the notion that the artist found himself shipboard with no proper supplies on hand, and acquired what paper he could from the bursar or captain during a moment of inspiration. Instead, many of these finished drawings appear to have been carefully worked up in the studio. The use of ledger book paper, whether due to certain properties it possessed or the simple convenience of availability, can be found among other artists, Rembrandt included, though it remains an understudied topic.11
In the case of a broad seascape image such as this one, the ledger line on the verso of the sheet sits below the horizon and may have provided a useful aid in generating such a precisely rendered effect.
While this sheet belongs to a group of drawings that were likely made in the same period, dating them remains difficult. Most of his dated sheets stemming from his travels in the mid- to late 1630s are sketchier in appearance and more topographic in function. The present sheet most likely dates to the 1640s, the last decade of his career, when De Verwer appears to have confined his travels to the waterways in and around the Netherlands. In terms of identifying the town in the distance, the suggestions of Vlissingen by Franklin Robinson, and of Dordrecht (by an anonymous modern hand on the verso) both seem plausible.12
Any topographic reality of the barely discernible town, however, is overridden by the image’s true function as a study of atmospheric effects at sea and the evocative perspectival potential of such a setting.
For an overview of De Verwer’s career and works, see Bol 1973, 84 – 88; Prud’homme van Reine 1992, 60 – 62; and Rotterdam & Berlin 1996 – 97, 133.
For the Admiralty commission, see Van Gelder 1947; for his travels in France and the Louvre paintings, see especially Alsteens & Buijs 2008, 247 – 56, with further references.
For the British Museum drawings, see Hind 1915 – 32, vol. 4, 89 – 90, nos. 1 – 11. The Braunschweig drawings are unpublished but see inv. nos. Z 1273 through Z 1280, many bearing dates of 1636 or 1637.
Sadkov 2010, 268, no. 426, listed as “Attributed to Abraham de Verwer.”
See the exhibition catalogue of the Ingram Collection, Rotterdam & Amsterdam 1961 – 62, 88, no. 105: Ships on the IJ before Amsterdam, pen and ink and red/brown wash, 158 × 280 mm (not reproduced).
For the Fondation Custodia drawings, see Paris 1989, 74 – 75, nos. 73 – 74, pls. 32 – 33; for the Göttingen drawing, see Koblenz, Göttingen, Oldenburg & Frankfurt 2000, 182, no. 70; for the Teylers drawing, see Plomp 1997, 422, no. 498; and for the ex-Hofstede de Groot drawing, see Becker 1923, no. 39.
The clouds in the Teylers drawing have a distinctively eighteenth-century character, as noted in Plomp 1997, 422; while those in the ex-Hofstede de Groot drawing seem slightly less so, but nevertheless may have been added later.
It has not been possible to confirm the use of cashbook paper for the ex-Hofstede de Groot drawing, but the others in the group, in the Fondation Custodia, Göttingen, and the Teylers Museum, are all documented as such in the respective entries for these drawings listed in note 7, above.
The use of cashbook paper went unnoted in the previous literature on this drawing, though Michiel Plomp already linked it stylistically with other sheets on this paper; see Plomp 1997, 422, under no. 498.
For examples of Rembrandt’s use of kasboekpapier for his drawings, see Schatborn & Hinterding 2019, nos. D455, D654, D655. For a theory about his use of it for the latter two drawings, see Binstock 2003.
For the suggestion of Vlissingen, see Chapel Hill, Ithaca & Worcester 1999– 2001, 108 – 09, no. 37. For De Verwer’s reliably labeled sketch of Vlissingen (observed closer up) in the Victoria & Albert Museum, see Turner & White 2014, 338 – 39, no. 407. For Dordrecht, De Verwer also depicted the city in a topographic drawing in the British Museum; Hind 1915 – 32, vol. 4, 89, no. 5.