This is the largest and most elaborate of the pictures by Willem van de Velde the Younger in the National Gallery’s collection. Painted with the artist’s usual accuracy and fine detail, the depiction of a marine occasion fairly common in a seafaring nation like seventeenth-century Holland becomes spectacular and exciting. The central vessel is a Statenjacht (state yacht) flying the Dutch colours. The puff of smoke is cannon fire, a salute to the officials approaching in the barge alongside, which bears the coat of arms of Amsterdam.
The small pleasure yacht on the extreme right carries a pennant, the colours of which signify a private vessel. The blue panel on the pennant features a gold wreath with the initials ‘W/VV’ in the centre. This would perhaps suggest that van de Velde has portrayed the family yacht, though whether the people on board are the van de Veldes is open to question.
The low view in this large painting opens up a vast expanse of blue sky wreathed in sunlit clouds and laced with an intricate pattern of masts, sails, flags and spars. The masts are upright, keeping the composition on an even keel that the draped sails and angular spars might otherwise disturb. Between the boats moored on either side of the waterway, the calm sea shimmers like glass.
This is the largest and most elaborate of the pictures by Willem van de Velde the Younger in the National Gallery’s collection. Painted with the artist’s usual accuracy and fine detail, the depiction of a marine occasion fairly common in a seafaring nation like seventeenth century Holland becomes spectacular and exciting. Admiralty officials are involved, perhaps going across the Zuiderzee to visit the fleet lying in the Texel, an area of the sea off Friesland.
The central vessel is a Statenjacht (state yacht) flying the Dutch colours. On the stern are the arms of the Province of Holland and, above them, those of Amsterdam. The puff of smoke is cannon fire, a salute to the officials approaching in the barge alongside, which also carries the arms of Amsterdam. Up on the high deck, trumpeters sound a fanfare. It is answered by a fanfare from a second barge close to us, which bears the arms of the admiralty on the stern.
On the right – and conspicuous among the many vessels surrounding the Statenjacht – is a small boyer (or pleasure) yacht. The two men on board turn to watch a third as he puts on his gloves, preparing to join them from the skiff being steadied by a seaman holding on to the side. A woman in the stern looks up expectantly, waiting for her turn to board. They are well dressed and their boat is prettily decorated with gold helmeted heads of mythical warriors. Overhead flies a plain white flag, unknown among the official colours of Holland at the time. The striped pennant signifies a private craft – its blue panel is decorated with a gold wreath, the initials ‘W/VV’ in the centre.
These distinctive initials and the variation from the normal blue, white and red of the Dutch flags flying all around them would suggest that Willem the Younger is depicting his family in their yacht. Whether the three male figures are meant to be portraits of Willem the Elder and his two sons is open to question. Both Willem the Younger and his brother Adriaen worked in their father’s studio. Adriaen, a successful landscape painter, sometimes contributed figures to his brother’s pictures, as he did in The Shore at Scheveningen.
Many of Willem the Elder’s exquisite drawings remain in the maritime museums of the world. From them, it’s possible to conclude that he often drew beautifully detailed ship portraits that were transferred into paintings by his son, a less-accomplished draughtsman but by far the better painter of the two.
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