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Willem van de Velde, Three Ships in a Gale

Key facts
Full title Three Ships in a Gale
Artist Willem van de Velde
Artist dates 1633 - 1707
Date made 1673
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 74.5 × 94.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
Inventory number NG981
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Three Ships in a Gale
Willem van de Velde

The merchant ships we see here are in some peril. The wind is so strong that they have been forced to take down their sails and are drifting at the mercy of the gale and the surging sea. Our attention is focused on the nearest ship, a man-of-war, as it ploughs into a breaking wave. A sudden shaft of sunlight seems to highlight the moment – a flash of brilliant white foam against the deep grey of a looming storm cloud.

But this vessel is faring well compared with the ship in the middle ground, which appears to have lost two of its masts. Its bowsprit has snapped in half, while the crew is battling to secure one of the yard arms lying across the foredeck. The mainsails of a third ship, which is just discernible in the near distance, have been let fly – they will soon be shredded by the force of the wind.

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