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Willem van Velde the Elder (1611-93) and the Younger (1633—1707) in London 1672-1707

The Dutch marine artists Willem van de Velde and his son, also called Willem, responded to Charles II’s declaration of June 1672 inviting Dutch people to move to England. In Holland, based in Amsterdam, the father made drawings of shipping and battles for the Dutch government, while his son, who had trained as a painter painted similar subjects. Soon after arriving in London they began their first major commission for the king, designs for a set of tapestries of the recent battle of Solebay during the third Anglo-Dutch War. They were paid salaries by the king - the father for making drawings, the son for his paintings. Over the next thirty years assisted by their studio they painted pictures of ships, battles and the sea for the court, the aristocracy and naval officers. After their deaths they became the model for the British marine artists who worked mainly in London in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Willem van de Velde the Elder ‘Ships Draughtsman to King Charles the II’, engraving by Gerard Sibelius after Godfrey Kneller

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Willem van de Velde the Elder ‘Ships Draughtsman to King Charles the II’, engraving by Gerard Sibelius after Godfrey Kneller
An engraving, after an original portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller, of the great marine artist Willem Van der Velde, here mispelt and modestly described as a 'ship's draughtsman'.

Willem van de Velde the Younger mezzotint by J Smith after Sir Godfrey Kneller

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Willem van de Velde the Younger mezzotint by J Smith after Sir Godfrey Kneller
Van de Velde the Younger started painting in the late 1640s, probably under the guidance of the marine painter, Simon de Vlieger. At that time the most important types of Dutch painting were genre pieces, portraiture and landscape, since there was increasing interest in naturalistic representation of the scenery of Holland.
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Hendrick Danckerts, Greenwich from the Park showing the Queen’s House, c. 1670

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Hendrick Danckerts, Greenwich from the Park showing the Queen’s House, c. 1670
Danckert’s picture shows Greenwich as it was when the Van de Veldes arrived from Holland. An artist is shown sketching in the park. By 1675 the Van de Veldes had a studio in the Queen’s House which had recently been enlarged by Charles II as part of his plans to rebuild Greenwich Palace. In Danckert’s painting the House is shown on the left with part of the king’s new palace beyond in the centre of the picture, and London in the distance. The Van de Velde’s studio was on the ground floor of the house. Two of its three windows facing the park can be seen on the left. Three pairs of wooden shutters were ordered for this south-facing room in 1675, presumably to keep strong light out of the studio. The Van de Veldes lived in a house close to the river on the right hand side of the picture. It is possible that they would have kept or had access to a yacht or other small sailing craft moored nearby in which to travel either to London or to the Thames estuary.

Willem Van de Velde the Younger, An English ship in a gale trying to claw off a lee shore, 1672

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Willem Van de Velde the Younger, An English ship in a gale trying to claw off a lee shore, 1672
Van de Velde the Younger painted this picture of an English ship in distress very soon after arriving in London. To record this fact he has added the inscription In Londen 1672 as well as his signature. The picture may have been painted for a naval officer who had escaped shipwreck, but equally, the subject may be imaginary. At about this time Van de Velde was painting four pictures for Ham House in Surrey which the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale were improving. Three of these have Londen as part of the signature.
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Willem van de Velde the Younger, The yacht 'Royal Escape' close-hauled in a breeze

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Willem van de Velde the Younger, The yacht 'Royal Escape' close-hauled in a breeze
After the battle of Worcester in 1651 Charles II escaped to Shoreham on the coast of Sussex. Here he boarded a small costing collier called the 'Surprise' which took him to France. Soon after his restoration in 1660 he bought the vessel and converted her to a yacht which he renamed 'Royal Escape'. She was moored off Whitehall Palace for some years. Van de Velde’s picture was painted very soon after his arrival in England, in about 1675.

Willem van de Velde the Younger, Charles II visiting the fleet in the Thames estuary, 6 June 1672

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Willem van de Velde the Younger, Charles II visiting the fleet in the Thames estuary, 6 June 1672
It is probable that Van de Velde began this picture for Charles II soon after the visit. The picture shows the occasion during the third Anglo-Dutch war when, a week after the battle of Solebay, the king went down the Thames from London in the 'Cleveland' yacht to hold a council-of-war on board the 'Prince' before the fleet sailed for the Dutch coast. In the picture the king has transferred to the barge from which he is going on board the Prince which flies the royal standard.
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Willem van de Velde the Younger, drawing, Launch of an English two-decker, about 1675

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Willem van de Velde the Younger, drawing, Launch of an English two-decker, about 1675
This rapid pencil and wash drawing shows the launch of an important new naval ship probably on the Thames. The setting is likely to be Deptford Dockyard which can be seen beyond the Queen’s House in Danckert’s painting above. It was close to Greenwich where the Van de Veldes lived.

Willem Van de Velde the Younger, Departure of William of Orange and Princess Mary for Holland, 19 November 1677

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Willem Van de Velde the Younger, Departure of William of Orange and Princess Mary for Holland, 19 November 1677
William of Orange and Princess Mary (later to reign as William and Mary) were married at St James’s on 4 November 1677. On 19 November they left Whitehall and were accompanied by Charles II and the Duke of York down the Thames as far as Erith where they went on board yachts which took them to Holland. Van de Velde’s painting shows the scene off Erith when the king and the Duke took their leave of the couple. Van de Velde the Elder was present in the yacht 'Mary', and the drawings he made would have been used by the Younger in making this picture.
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Willem van de Velde the Younger: An English ship in action with Barbary corsairs

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Willem van de Velde the Younger:  An English ship in action with Barbary corsairs
The action in this picture has not been identified. It may be one which took place in off the north African coast in the Mediterranean in about 1675, but the possibility cannot be ruled out that the subject is imaginary. It is one of Van de Velde’s most vigorous and dramatic pictures. The artist’s signature, now hidden, was once visible on the back of the canvas, with the date 1678. Despite the exotic nature of the subject, the picture was painted in England (possibly in the studio in the Queen’s House) for an English patron.

Willem van de Velde the Elder, drawing: Portrait of the 'Britannia'

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Willem van de Velde the Elder, drawing: Portrait of the 'Britannia'
There are 1400 drawings by the Van de Veldes in the Museum’s collection. This drawing of the 'Britannia' was probably made by the Elder in 1684 when he visited Chatham to record the launch of the 'Royal Sovereign'. It shows the ship’s elaborate figurehead which depicts the king on horseback riding over a winged dragon. Drawings such as this would be used by the Younger when he needed accurate and detailed information about a ship to be included in a new painting.
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Willem van de Velde the Elder, drawing: The decorated pontoon before Whitehall on the day after the coronation of James II, 24 April 1685 (left side of drawing)

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Willem van de Velde the Elder, drawing: The decorated pontoon before Whitehall on the day after the coronation of James II, 24 April 1685 (left side of drawing)
Following the death of Charles II James was crowned at Westminster after a royal progress by water from Whitehall Palace. The following day a firework display was held in front of the palace. A series of three drawings by Van van de Velde the Elder in the Museum’s collection depict the scene. This is the left half of a drawing which shows the crowd of yachts, barges and wherries with sightseers in front of the pontoon on which are figures holding fireworks and pilasters with the star of the Garter, a crown, and the device JMR2 hanging between them.

The yacht 'Mary' arriving with Princess Mary at Gravesend, 12 February 1689

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The yacht 'Mary' arriving with Princess Mary at Gravesend, 12 February 1689
Mary came to England three months after her husband, William of Orange, had landed in Torbay. They were proclaimed joint king and queen in London on 13 February and crowned on 11 April. The special white standard of the revolution flies at the masthead of the 'Mary' yacht with the legend ‘For the Protestant Religion and the Liberty of England’.
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Willem van de Velde the Younger, Calm: the 'Royal Sovereign' with a royal yacht in light airs, 1703

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Willem van de Velde the Younger, Calm: the 'Royal Sovereign' with a royal yacht in light airs, 1703
Following the Elder Van de Velde’s death in 1693 the Van de Velde studio continued to flourish. The 'Royal Sovereign' was launched at Woolwich on the Thames in 1701. Pictures like this from the Younger Van de Velde’s late years were to influence English marine painters later in the century.

Elisha Kirkall (about 1682-1742) after Willem van de Velde the Younger, mezzotint, A sixth-rate saluting in a calm

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Elisha Kirkall (about 1682-1742) after Willem van de Velde the Younger, mezzotint, A sixth-rate saluting in a calm
One way in which images originated by Van de Velde became more widely known was by engraving – multiple images could be printed from an engraved copper plate to be sold in print shops. Elisha Kirkall was born in Sheffield in the north of England, but came to London where he became a successful engraver in the early eighteenth century. He specialised in a form of engraving called mezzotint, a process by which dramatic and yet subtle effects of light and shade could be achieved. He produced a series of mezzotints based on paintings by Van de Velde the Younger which he found in private art collections. They were printed in sea green ink and Kirkall is said to have made a great deal of money from the sale of these prints.
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