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Willem van de Velde, A Dutch Vessel in a Strong Breeze

Key facts
Full title A Dutch Vessel in a Strong Breeze
Artist Willem van de Velde
Artist dates 1633 - 1707
Date made about 1670
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 23.2 × 33.2 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Lord Farnborough, 1838
Inventory number NG150
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Dutch Vessel in a Strong Breeze
Willem van de Velde

An angry tide surges around two small transport boats heading for disaster under a stormy sky. The crew of the kaag, desperate to avoid collision with the fast approaching smalschip, have released the horizontal spar to take the wind out of the mainsail. This way, the vessel will slow and – with luck – pass safely behind the smaller craft. A smaller open boat heads towards them, two men pointing at the impending catastrophe.

The sideways sweep of the three vessels and their converging diagonal lines strengthen the tension. A weak beam of sunlight illuminates the sail of the kaag; it highlights the drama but, together with the flag still flying at the masthead, perhaps also suggests a ray of hope in a pitiless sea. Such pictures were popular in seventeenth-century Holland because they were exciting, but they were also a reminder of the dangers encountered by the hundreds of mariners who were an important part of the country’s prosperity.

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