Action at Bergen, 3 August 1665

An incident following the Dutch defeat at Lowestoft, which was the first fleet action of the Second Dutch War, 1665-67. A returning Dutch East India and Smyrna fleet was forced to put into Bergen, Norway, a neutral port for refuge since the English were blockading the Dutch coast. The English were anxious to capture such a rich prize and entered into a compact with the Danish king (Norway then being under Danish rule). In return for ordering the shore batteries of Bergen not to interfere when the English squadron appeared, he would receive a half share of the spoils. Unfortunately the governor of Bergen did not receive this instruction in time and so the English faced fire from the shore batteries and the guns of the Dutch Indiamen and were forced to retire.

Twelve Dutch Indiamen are shown spread across the canvas. There was not room for all to be anchored in line and so only four are broadside to the enemy and in action. On the left several more are moored bow on, engaging with their chase guns. There are some lateen-rigged Danish vessels on the right of the harbour and the Danish shore batteries can be seen in action on the extreme left and right of the painting. The English squadron can only be glimpsed in the centre background and are almost totally obscured by the smoke of their own guns.

The painting is an oil sketch believed to be the preliminary one from which van de Velde made his large painting, twelve feet long, for Commodore Bitter, the Dutch commander. It was painted in 1666 following a pen, ink and wash drawing also in the National Maritime Museum, PAH1787.

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. He worked in his father's studio and developed the skill of carefully drawing ships in tranquil settings. He changed his subject matter, however, when he came with his father to England in 1672-73, by a greater concentration on royal yachts, men-of-war and storm scenes. From this time painting sea battles for Charles II and his brother (and Lord High Admiral) James, Duke of York, and other patrons, became a priority. Unlike his father's works, however, they were not usually eyewitness accounts. After his father's death in 1693 his continuing role as an official marine painter obliged him to be more frequently present at significant maritime events.

Object Details

ID: BHC0698
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Velde, Willem van de
Date made: 1666
People: Denmark: Navy; Royal Navy Netherlands: Navy
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Macpherson Collection
Measurements: Painting: 622 mm x 1143 mm; Frame: 620 x 1237 x 65 mm

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