The 'Gouden Leeuw' at the Battle of the Texel, 21 August 1673

The Battle of Texel was the last battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, 1672-74 between the Dutch, on one side, and the English and French on the other. It represented the final attempt by the Allies to destroy the Dutch fleet and leave the coast free for an invasion of Holland from the sea. Van de Velde’s painting represents the battle which took place between the Dutch, under Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, and the Anglo-French Fleet near the island of Texel, off the coast of Holland, north of Amsterdam. The English and French ships tried to lure the Dutch fleet from behind the sandbanks, off Schooneveld, in preparation for an invasion of Holland.

Tromp's flagship 'Gouden Leeuw', 80 guns, dominates the composition and is seen slightly to the left of centre, in starboard-quarter view. Her lion motif is visible on the stern and she is firing to port and starboard. She flies the double-prince six-striped Dutch flag at the main and as an ensign. Also she flies a pennant at the mizzen to indicate a ship of the third or rear squadron. Her port guns are firing at the 'Charles', 96 guns, in the left background. The ‘Charles’ flies the red flag of Rear-Admiral Sir John Chicheley's at her mizzen which is shown falling as the mizzen topmast is shot away. In the right foreground a dismasted English ship is sinking. Beyond this the 'Royal Prince', 100 guns can be seen flying the blue flag of Sir Edward Spragge at the main. She is viewed from before the starboard beam. Her mizzen topmast is shown falling, the mast has been broken just below the top and both her mizzen yard and spritsail yard have been broken. In the distance, between the 'Gouden Leeuw' and the 'Prince', a ship is shown before the wind, starboard broadside. Since flags are shown flying at every masthead this is probably intended to be the 'Royal Sovereign', 100 guns, with the English Lord Admiral, Prince Rupert, on board. Beyond, on the right, is the 'London', 96 guns, with a red flag at the fore indicating the presence of Vice-Admiral Sir John Harman. There are three boats moving through the water to pick up survivors from the sinking English ship in the right foreground. The cloud of black smoke ahead of the 'Gouden Leeuw' may be coming from the burning of a fireship. A Dutch ship in the right distance, with a flag at the main and a pennant at the fore, must be the 'Walcheren', 68 guns, of Lieutenant-Admiral A. Banckert.

On the left of the painting several ships of Lieutenant-Admiral Cornelis Tromp's squadron are shown. Just visible, on the extreme far left, is the forepart of the 'Olifant', 82 guns, with the striped flag of Vice-Admiral Isaac Sweers at the fore. In the distance is the rear-admiral of the third squadron, J. de Haen, in the 'Hollandia', 86 guns, with a striped flag and pennant at the mizzen. The next ship, to the right, is the 'Woerden'. The arms of Woerden, which consisted of a gold shield and a chequered bend between diamonds, are visible on the tafferel. In fact this ship was not at the battle. On the 'Woerden's' port beam is the 'Komeeetster'. It was to this ship that Tromp shifted his flag when the 'Gouden Leeuw' became unmanageable. De Ruyter's flag and pennant at the main of the 'Zeven Provincien' can be seen above the smoke and beyond the 'Woerden'.

The positions of the ships in this painting cannot be reconciled with either the written accounts or the drawings made of the battle by Willem van de Velde, the Elder. Of the many paintings by Willem van de Velde, the Younger of this battle, this is the largest and regarded as the most important. When Arthur Young saw it in the gallery at Temple Newsam c. 1767, he commented, ‘Battle at Sea. Very fine’. The 1807 inventory of the house refers to ‘this very excellent picture … in fine preservation, and to the love of marine subjects highly interesting’. This painting ranks with The ‘Gouden Leeuw’ on the River IJ at Amsterdam as one of van de Velde’s greatest achievements and shows him at the height of his artistic powers. 'The ‘Gouden Leeuw’ on the River IJ' was executed by van de Velde without studio assistance during a visit to Amsterdam in 1686. Moreover it is possible that he began work on this painting, in Amsterdam, soon afterwards. However, the date of this artwork, 1687, may suggest that it was painted after van de Velde’s return to England. Both paintings have their focus on the 'Gouden Leeuw' and they appear to celebrate it as a symbol of national pride. The prominence of the ship, in the centre foreground, indicates that the painting was a Dutch commission. However, the suggestion that it was ordered by Tromp for his new country house, Trompenburg which was house built shortly before the date of the painting, has been dismissed. Tromp was made a baronet by Charles II and was known to have close links with the English court. The date of the artwork indicates that it may have been commissioned by Cornelis Tromp to show his flagship during a visit to England. An inventory made after Tromp’s death, in 1691, refers to a painting of a battle a sea, ‘a long picture in a gold frame …’ but it is described as being by Willem van de Velde the Elder. However, this may just have been an erroneous attribution of the present work by van de Velde the Younger. There is a good copy, made by a studio assistant, in the Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum, Amsterdam.

Willem van de Velde the Younger 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. However he changed his subject matter when he came to England with his father in 1672. During this time he worked 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. However, unlike his father's artworks, his paintings were not usually eyewitness accounts. Despite this, from early 1674, both the van de Veldes were expressly patronized by Charles II for this purpose. Willem van de Velde the Elder would draw sea fights and his son - who was by far the more accomplished painter - 'for putting the said Draughts into Colours'. After his father's death in 1693, Willem van de Velde the Younger was officially engaged to be present at and record significant maritime events. He continued to run a substantial and influential studio until his own death. Willem van de Velde the Younger and his father are regarded as the founders of the English school of marine painting. This painting is signed and dated on the back 'W.V.Velde J 1687'.

Object Details

ID: BHC0315
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Velde, Willem van de, the Younger
Events: Third Anglo-Dutch War: Battle of Texel, 1673
Vessels: Gouden Leeuw 1654
Date made: 1687
Exhibition: Turmoil and Tranquillity
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Purchased with the assistance of the Art Fund and the Society for Nautical Research Macpherson Fund
Measurements: Frame: 1802 mm x 3310 mm x 160 mm;Overall: 84 kg;Painting: 1498 x 2997 mm

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