The First Battle of Schooneveld, 28 May 1673

Van de Velde the Elder has adopted a high viewpoint in this detailed ‘pen painting’ showing the First Battle of Schooneveld, during the Third Dutch War, 1672-74. Although he was present at the battle, the painting was produced eleven years after the event from drawings made at the time. The battle took place in the Schooneveld, a narrow basin at the mouth of the River Schelde, between the Dutch fleet under Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter in the 'Zeven Provincien', 80 guns, and the English and French Allied fleets. These were led by Prince Rupert in the 'Royal Charles', 96 guns, and the Comte d'Estrées in 'La Reine'. Early in 1673 the Test Act had forced the Duke of York, as a Roman Catholic, to relinquish the command of the fleet. Consequently Prince Rupert assumed command under the King. The Allied objective was to bring the Dutch to action and either defeat them or blockade their coast to cover the landing of an Allied army. In this action the Allied fleet had superiority in fire-power, with seventy-nine English ships against fifty-two Dutch. Prince Rupert sent a mixed squadron towards the Dutch anchorage to tempt de Ruyter out. De Ruyter chased the Allied forces back to their fleet and battle commenced at noon, lasting for nine hours. Overall, one Dutch ship was captured and then recaptured and the Dutch 'Deventer', 70 guns, sank at anchor on the night after the battle: the French lost two ships and the English none, although their loss of life was heavier than the Dutch.

Van de Velde's painting shows the action at about four o'clock in the afternoon and the profusion of ships taking part. They can be partly identified by a key written in Italian, which accompanies the picture but is only partly legible. The main engagements are shown taking place in the middle distance. The English ketch to the front right is marked as the boat from which Van de Velde was sketching (11). This was the first battle that he observed and recorded from the English side. The painting is signed and dated 'W V Velde f.1684/oudt. 73 Jaren', lower left. He also produced a painting of the Second Battle of Schooneveld [BHC0306].

Born in Leiden, van de Velde moved to Amsterdam with his two sons Adriaen and Willem, who were also painters. With Willem, the older son, 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's work to be full of detail and show his knowledge of shipping. He originally applied a cross-hatching technique to show darkness and shadow but from the 1650s increasingly used a brush to indicate shadow, clouds or waves. By 1673 father and son had moved to England, working for both Charles II and his brother James, Duke of York. 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.

The action of the battle is carefully condensed into Van de Velde’s composition. In the left background there are mostly English ships of the red squadron. Prince Rupert and his squadron are shown moving towards the right and engaged with the squadron of Cornelis Tromp, in the 'Gouden Leeuw'. The recognizable English ships include the 'London' with a flag at the fore, marked '6' on the key, and ahead of this is 'La Reine' marked with a 'd' on the white flag at the fore. Astern of the 'Royal Charles' is the 'Charles' with a flag at the mizzen (c). Further away with their flags showing above the English ships are the 'Golden Leeuw', which has a striped flag at the fore (5), the 'Pacificatie' with a striped flag at the fore (6). Leading Tromp's squadron and closely engaged with 'La Reine' is the 'Hollandia', with a flag at the mizzen (7). Dutch ships recognizable in the left distance are the 'Eendracht', with a flag at the main (3), and the 'Maagd van Dordrecht' with a flag at the mizzen (4). In the centre moving in the same direction are the squadrons of de Ruyter and d'Estrées.

On the right, moving from right to left, are the squadrons of Sir Edward Spragge in the 'Prince' in the middle-distance and Banckaert, to the left, in 'Walcheren', 68 guns, which is marked '8' on the flag at the main. The 'Prince' (g) is shown awaiting the attack of de Ruyter and Banckert, who are in the centre of the picture moving towards Spragge's blue squadron in an attempt to cut it off from the rest of the Allied fleet. The 'Zeven Provincien' is marked '1' and astern of the 'Prince' is the 'St Andrew' with the flag at the fore (h)'. The rear-admiral of the blue squadron, Lord Ossory, is more in the foreground and to the left in the 'St Michael', engaged at long distance with de Ruyter. Other Dutch ships are recognizable between de Ruyter and Banckaert are the 'Vrijheid (2) and the 'Zierikzee' (9). The 'Orgueilleux' is shown close ahead of de Ruyter (e). In the foreground on the left is a French snow and, passing her, an English snow. On the right is a French fire-ship (13), burning to the water's edge and just beyond this a French fire-ship (12) is sinking. On the extreme right an English yacht is passing an English royal yacht (14) under sail to starboard.

Object Details

ID: BHC0305
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Velde, Willem van de, the Elder
Events: Third Anglo-Dutch War: Battles of Schooneveld, 1673
Date made: 1684
Exhibition: Unseen: The Lives of Looking by Dryden Goodwin
People: Royal Navy; Netherlands: Navy
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Measurements: Frame: 695 mm x 955 mm x 62 mm;Overall: 9.4 kg;Painting: 544 x 746 mm

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