Dutch Ships Revictualling off a Rocky Coast

A squadron of Dutch warships are shown at anchor, on the left, off a rocky coastline. The foremost ship appears to be drying her sails and there are a number of sailors in the rigging. She flies the Dutch flag. In the distance the sea is smooth and even, rendered in sombre, dark grey. By contrast, in the foreground, the water swells and furls into taut, white-peaked waves. In the right foreground, having rowed ashore, a group of men are forming a landing party on the small beach. Their ship's boat is anchored in shallow water nearby. The painting is divided compositionally in two with land on the right and the ships at anchor on the left. On the right, sheer cliffs rise above the rocks. Through the rocks, a torrent flows down to the sea from the higher ground. The topography, on the right, is forbidding with precipitous rocks and conifers growing amongst the outcrops and on the cliff top. A pathway leads up the steep cliffs with mountain goats visible at the top. Collectively, the figures of the landing party enact a narrative in which the goats are shot, skinned and taken aboard to feed the ships’ crew. De Vlieger’s keen interest in picturing animals led him to produce several pen drawings of mountain goats which he, later, incorporated into his landscape paintings.

This painting is palpably dominated by the pale silvery-grey hues and smooth brushstrokes which defined de Vlieger’s later work and which distinguished him from his contemporaries working in earthier, brown tones such as Jan van Goyen (BHC0806). In fact, the chief subject here is light which emerges from the left. Typically for de Vlieger’s work in this period the light is at its most intense, just above the horizon, in the centre of the composition. This light is reflected onto the water where it glistens, complemented by the sandy-coloured rocks, in the distance, on the right. In contrast, clouds begin to swirl and darken on the left.

The painting’s previous owner, Captain Eric Palmer, suggested that the painting illustrated a Baltic coastline. Pine and fir trees growing on the land and a stream flowing rapidly down into the sea are decidedly un-Dutch. Instead these features may reflect the contemporary interest, among Dutch artists, in depicting fictitious Scandinavian landscapes. The crisply painted rocks and frothy sprays of water are possible antecedents of those painted by Allart van Everdingen, the only Dutch painter known to have ventured to Scandinavia. However, it is likely that de Vlieger made intermittent trips to the coasts of the northern Netherlands and beyond. During these trips he would have made preparatory studies and drawings that he, subsequently, built up into finished oil paintings in his studio. Palmer dated this painting to 1637. Although, more recently, Jan Kelch has suggested a date of 1635.

Simon de Vlieger was born in Rotterdam in around 1600. He was an important early painter in the emerging discipline of marine art. In 1634, he became a member of the Delft Guild of Painters and, by 1638, was in Amsterdam. He settled in nearby Weesp and remained there for the rest of his life. De Vlieger influenced the direction of Dutch marine art decisively during the 1630s and 1640s. Significantly, as the pupil of Jan Porcellis and the master of Willem van de Velde the Younger, he provided a bridge between the second generation of Dutch marine painters and the third. He demonstrated his versatility and technical accomplishment by painting a wide variety of marine subjects and was a sophisticated early exponent of the Dutch realist tradition. He moved away from a monochrome palette towards a silvery tonality and demonstrated a closely observed knowledge of shipping. He, also, painted figural representations for churches, genre scenes and landscapes and was an etcher. De Vlieger died in the coastal town of Weesp early in 1653. This early work was painted before the artist evolved a naturalistic style and was probably painted in Rotterdam before he moved to Amsterdam. The painting is signed 'S de Vlieger' on a boulder on the right.

Object Details

ID: BHC0776
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Vlieger, Simon de
Date made: 1635-1637; 1635-37
Exhibition: Turmoil and Tranquillity
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Palmer Collection. Acquired with the assistance of H.M. Treasury, the Caird Fund, the Art Fund, the Pilgrim Trust and the Society for Nautical Research Macpherson Fund.
Measurements: Frame: 728 mm x 1175 mm x 95 mm;Painting: 534 mm x 990 mm

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