Three hundred and fifty years ago, when England and the Dutch Republic were at war, a family of Dutch artists fled Holland to serve the English King. The paintings made by Willem van de Velde the Elder and his son were to change English art.
To mark the anniversary of their arrival in Greenwich, a free exhibition of their works will open next year.
The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich holds the largest collection of the Van de Veldes’ artwork in the world and is a longstanding centre of Van de Velde expertise.
Detail from – The Burning of the Royal James at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1872 by Willem Van de Velde the Younger (c) National Maritime Museum, London
The exhibition will celebrate these two artists, whose work at their studio in Queen’s House was to transform British visual culture and inspired future generations of artists including J.M.W. Turner.
Willem van de Velde the Elder and his son, Willem van de Velde the Younger were amongst the most important and influential marine painters of the seventeenth century.
Following the Rampjaar of 1672, the outbreak of the Franco-Dutch War and its peripheral conflict the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the Van de Veldes moved from the Netherlands to England at the invitation of Charles II, who awarded them a salary of £100 per year — equivalent to that of his ‘Principal Painter’, Sir Peter Lely — and a studio at the Queen’s House in Greenwich.
Together, they were to become the founders of the English school of marine painting.
Willem van de Velde the Elder was a self-taught draughtsman who pioneered the technique of ‘pen painting’, allowing him to capture a ship’s likeness or a naval battle in astonishing detail. He was also a war journalist, who went out to sea to sketch ships and record naval actions, witnessing historical events including the Battle of Solebay, the last naval battle James, Duke of York (later James II) engaged in.
Detail from – The embarkation of William of Orange and Princess Mary at Margate in November 1677 on their return to Holland after their marriage by Willem Van de Velde the Elder (c) National Maritime Museum, London
This son however worked in oils, often using his father’s detailed drawings as source material. He trained with Simon de Vlieger and collaborated closely with his father, creating more dramatic, atmospheric paintings, particularly the stormscapes that appealed to an English market. These works would establish his reputation as one of the leading marine painters of the seventeenth century and reportedly led Turner to say, ‘this made me a painter’.
From their Queen’s House studio, their home for twenty years, the Van de Veldes revolutionised marine painting in Britain and established a genre that persists today.
One of the most important objects in the exhibition will be the newly conserved painting, A Royal Visit to the Fleet which at almost four metres across, was the largest seascape Van de Velde the Younger had painted to date.
Detail from – A Royal Visit to the Fleet in the Thames Estuary, 1672 by Willem Van de Velde the Younger (c) National Maritime Museum, London
Also returning to display in this exhibition will be The Burning of the Royal James at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672, otherwise known as ‘The Solebay Tapestry’. This monumental tapestry has been saved from further deterioration and is able to return to display for the first time in over twenty years.
Displayed alongside these monumental works will be a selection of the 1,400 drawings from the National Maritime Museum’s collection, and all 1,400 drawings have also been digitised and will go online when the exhibition opens.
The exhibition, The Van de Veldes: Greenwich, Art and the Sea opens next March and runs until the end of the year. Entry to Queen’s House is free.
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