A Royal Visit to the Fleet in the Thames Estuary, 1672
The painting is a busy scene of yachts and boats moving towards the 'Prince' in response to the signal of a royal standard in the mizzen shrouds calling a council-of-war of all flag officers. The 'Prince' also flies the royal standard at the main, the Admiralty flag at the fore and the Union flag at the mizzen, a combination for showing the presence of the monarch on board that only became regular in the reign of William III. There are tricolour 'common' pendants at each masthead below the flags and pendants at the main and main-topsail yardarms. A yacht passing under the 'Prince's' stern is thought to be the 'Kitchen'. In the centre distance is the 'London', 96 guns, with the new admiral of the blue squadron, Sir Edward Spragge, who had replaced the Earl of Sandwich, drowned while escaping from his burning flagship 'Royal James' at Solebay. In the centre foreground is a French ship's barge pulling towards the 'Prince'. The king's barge with the royal standard in the bow is shown alongside the 'Prince'. To the right a French and English boat appear to be in collision. The 'Royal Sovereign', 100 guns, is shown in the right background, flying the red flag of Sir Joseph Jordan at the fore, following his promotion to Vice-Admiral of the Red after Solebay. On the extreme right is the forepart of a Dutch bezan yacht, thought to be the one given to Charles II in 1661. The vessels in the background under sail are mainly ketches. In the background there are ships at anchor and the low land of Essex is visible in the distance.
The Duke of York's flag captain, Sir John Narborough, recorded several royal visits between June and September in 1672 in his journal. The subject of this painting may have been suggested to the artist by the Duke of York soon after the van de Veldes arrived in England in 1672. Early in 1673 the Test Act forced the Roman Catholic duke to relinquish command of the fleet and so this picture represents one of the last occasions when he commanded the fleet at sea.
The artist was the younger son of Willem van de Velde the Elder. Born in Leiden, he studied under Simon de Vlieger in Weesp and in 1652 moved back to Amsterdam. There he worked in his father's studio and developed the skill of carefully drawing and painting ships in tranquil settings. He changed his subject matter, however, when he came with his father to England in 1672, by working on views of royal yachts, men-of-war and on storm scenes. From 1672 the depiction of sea battles from the English side became a priority but unlike his father's they were not usually eyewitness accounts. However, from early 1674 both the van de Veldes were expressly patronized by Charles II for this purpose, the father to draw sea fights and the son - who was by far the more accomplished painter - 'for putting the said Draughts into Colours'. After his father's death in 1693 he continued to run a substantial and influential studio until his own death and with his father, especially as a painter, he is regarded as founder of the English school of marine painting.There is good reason to believe that the picture was largely painted in the 1670s but only finished (or retouched) signed and dated in the 1690s. Robinson records the date on it as 'perhaps1696' but new inspection (February 2019) shows it as more likely to be 'No 1694' squeezed in above the earlier signature of 'W van de Veld. de jonge' on a piece of driftwood, lower right. 'No', with what is clearly a capital 'N', may in this case suggest 'November' rather than ' [An]No' (in the year).The artist sold it privately at some date afterwards for £130 to a 'Nobleman', according to Gerorge Vertue's initial note on it of about 1715, but if so it soon passed on (as Vertue later added) to a London merchant called Mr Stone and remained with his descendants until 1892. Sir James Caird purchased it from the next owner in 1936 for presentation to the Museum. There is a related drawn version, see PAH8400.
|Display location:||Not on display|
|Creator:||Velde, style of Willem van de; Velde, Willem van de|
|Vessels:||Cleveland 1671; Royal Prince 1610|
|Date made:||1672 -1694/6; 1672 -1696|
|Exhibition:||Art for the Nation; Caird Collection|
|Credit:||National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection|
|Measurements:||Painting: 1651 mm x 3300 mm; Frame: 1898 x 3598 x 110 mm|
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