The Battle of Scheveningen, 10 August 1653

The Battle of Scheveningen was the last battle of the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–4). This grisaille or 'pen-painting' is one of two known grisailles of the Battle of Scheveningen, 10 August 1653. This work is the smaller and earlier of the two works by Willem van de Velde, the Elder that show the event. The scene relates to the conclusion of the action and it is based on sketches made by van de Velde, who was an eyewitness to the event. Whilst, van de Velde interpreted the battle as a success for the Dutch, it was more widely regarded as a Dutch defeat since they lost 15 ships. More disastrously, they lost their leader, Lieutenant-Admiral Maerten Tromp. His death, which occurred at the beginning of the engagement, resulted in confusion amongst the Dutch fleet. Consequently the English were able to impose harsh terms on the Dutch at the ensuing peace conference.

Several incidents, which occurred at different times during the action, are combined in this work to form a continuous narrative. The battle is shown towards its conclusion and viewed from a high horizon. The fleets are passing each other with the English mainly on the port tack and the Dutch on the starboard, heading for land. The composition is crowded. In the right foreground the burning British ship, 'Andrew', 66 guns, is shown being grappled by the Dutch fireship 'Fortune'. ‘Fortune’ is identifiable by the figure of Fortune on the stern. Whilst the 'Andrew', with lion figurehead visible, flies the Commonwealth jack with a cross and harp within a wreath. At the mizzen she flies the white St George's flag of Thomas Graves, rear-admiral of the white squadron. In addition small St George's vanes can be seen on the other two masts. The artist has shown the consequences of the altercation between the ‘Fortune’ and ‘Andrew’. Figures can be seen escaping the burning ‘Andrew’. Some are abandoning the vessel in fully laden ship's boats and others are visible in the water. An English ship is close to the ‘Andrew’ on her starboard quarter. Whilst another ship can be seen sinking to starboard.

In the distance, on the far right, are two Dutch ships: the 'Ster', which has a star on her stern and the 'Eendracht' with a lion and a seated figure of Hollandia within a fence on hers. Immediately behind the smoke from the 'Andrew' are the stern, masts and sails of the Dutch 'Jong Prins te Paard'. Beyond and to the left of these ships is the British commander, General-at-Sea George Monck, in the 'Resolution', 85 guns. The ‘Resolution’ flies the Commonwealth standard at the main and the red ensign at the fore. The red ensign represented a signal for close action. The ‘Resolution’ is just visible in the middle distance engaged in action with the 'Brederode', 59 guns. The ‘Brederode’ was the flagship of the Dutch Commander-in-Chief, Maerten Tromp. It is shown still flying Tromp's flag even though by this stage in the battle he was dead. Visible on the stern of the 'Brederode' are the arms of Orange with lion supporters. The flag and pendant can be seen at the main.

The Dutch ships in the centre and to the left of the 'Brederode' are recognizable from their stern decoration; the 'Winhond', with a greyhound on the tafferel and the 'Vrede', 46 guns, identifiable by the full-length figure with a palm. The latter has the flag of Gideon de Wildt, second-in-command in Tromp's squadron, lashed to the remaining part of her fore-topmast and she can be seen engaging an English ship on her port bow flying a dark flag, which may indicate that it is the 'George', 70 guns, flagship of John Lawson, admiral of the blue squadron. A Dutch ship on the left, beyond a sinking English ship, is the 'Herder' with a stern decoration of a shepherd with his flock. On the far left in the distance and enveloped in smoke from a burning English ship is probably the 'Gouda', 72 guns, and even further in the distance is the 'Vrijheid', 50 guns, with a flag at the main and on the stern a seated female figure holding up a cap of Liberty on a spear.

In the left foreground is a galliot, flying a Dutch flag, under sail with several men on board, one of whom is the artist. He is the seated figure with his back to the viewer, wearing a hat, holding a drawing block and pencil, and looking towards the action on his right. The figure of a younger man stands to the left and his positioning indicates that he may either be an assistant or perhaps one of the artist's sons acting as an apprentice and learning through observation. The artist presents himself as a figure observing and sketching the progress of the conflict which he was to do in a similar way in at least six battles of the Anglo-Dutch Wars. Such a prominent foregrounding implies that he wished to be identified with the painting and the battle. By taking an aerial perspective, rather than the view he would have gained from his position in the boat, he, also, states his involvement in the overall project. Van de Velde produced several versions of this battle and the composition of this work follows the drawing he made during the course of the action. The much larger picture of the same battle in the Rijksmuseum has a higher horizon which enabled van de Velde to show a more panoramic view.

This painting was clearly commissioned by a Dutch patron since the event is portrayed as a Dutch success. The focal point of the painting is the sinking of the British 'Andrew' which was the one Dutch success of the action. The joint prominence of this incident and the artist may have been a form of advertising to ensure his participation was acknowledged. In a document written at the end of the battle and enclosed with a letter from Jan Evertsen to the States General, van de Velde wrote: ‘On arrival there was seen a fireship of Amsterdam, which had grappled the rear-admiral with the white flag, from which many people were jumping overboard; she was an old-fashioned ship, larger than Admiral Tromp’s ship and mounting a good sixty guns. The attack was not completely successful, but eventually the ship went down in a cloud of smoke.’ He also added that ‘… at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon I saw 14 or 15 ravaged English ships … One of them sank and two were on fire. All this can be seen in the drawings made, as accurately as possible, in the heat of the battle.’

The painting probably belonged to Harpert Tromp, the son of Maerten Tromp (who died while commanding Dutch fleet at Scheveningen), and younger brother of Cornelis Tromp. By the 1750s, when it was cleaned, it was in the collection of Sir Edward Littleton of Teddesley Hall, near Stafford. A letter from John Anderson, picture cleaner, addressed to Littleton on 11 August 1756 is in the Museum’s collection: ‘Your Picture of Vandervelde [set] Out on Monday Last By the Litchfield Waggon, Saunders and Kirk, which I hope will Come Verry safe to you, as it is as fine a Picture of the Great Master as Ever I saw.’

Born in Leiden, van de Velde moved to Amsterdam with his two sons Adriaen and Willem, who were also painters. Adriaen and Willem, the elder painted landscapes but with Willem, the younger, he formed a working partnership specializing in marine subjects which lasted to his own death. Willem, the elder was primarily a draughtsman who spent his career drawing ships and is believed to be one of the earliest artists to accompany fleets into action to record these events. He did this officially with the Dutch fleet from 1653. The resultant works, known as grisaille drawings or more accurately as pen-paintings ('penschilderingen'), were done in pen and ink on prepared lead-white panels or canvases. This technique enabled van de Velde to add a great deal of detail to his works and demonstrate his knowledge of shipping. Initially he applied a cross-hatching technique to show darkness and shadow but, from the 1650s, he increasingly used a brush to indicate shadow, clouds or waves. Van de Velde was the leading Dutch master in marine grisailles but, also, produced a handful of oils towards the end of his life. Of which this painting is an example. He briefly visited England twice, in 1661 and 1662, but, by 1673, had moved there permanently with Willem the younger. Both worked for Charles II and his brother James, Duke of York, and they became the founders of the English school of marine painting. A great deal is known about him thanks to a list of his depictions of naval battles compiled in January 1678 by Captain Christopher Gunman. This work is signed and dated 'W.V.Velde Å1655'.

Object Details

ID: BHC0277
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Velde, Willem van de, the Elder
Events: First Anglo-Dutch War: Battle of Scheveningen, 1653
Vessels: Brederode (1644); St Andrew (1622) Fortuin (fl.1653)
Date made: 1655
Exhibition: Turmoil and Tranquillity
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Measurements: Frame: 1367 mm x 1784 mm x 75 mm;Overall: 56.8 kg; Painting: 1143 mm x 1562 mm

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