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Paul Jean Clays, Ships lying off Flushing

Key facts
Full title Ships lying off Flushing
Artist Paul Jean Clays
Artist dates 1819 - 1900
Date made 1869
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 59.9 × 86.8 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by J.M. Parsons, 1870
Inventory number NG814
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Ships lying off Flushing
Paul Jean Clays

Paul Jean Clays’ heavy working boats are motionless, their sails hanging like sculptured banners glowing in the sun. But their power is palpable, three great vessels ready to surge forward with the first breath of wind. Although the vessels are stately and we see the detail of rigging, the painting seems to be more about reflected light – the gleaming reflections that spread, shimmering, across the still water to the edge of the picture, almost under our feet.

Taught in Paris by Horace Vernet and afterwards by Théodore Gudin, Clays broke free of the Romantic tradition of marine paintings depicting storms, naval battles and tragedies at sea. He seems to have reverted to the practices of seventeenth-century Dutch masters like Willem van de Velde, for whom the accuracy and detail of each vessel was paramount, and Jan van de Cappelle, who focused on the serene atmosphere of a calm sea.

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