Dutch Men-of-War off a Craggy Coast

De Vlieger favoured serene, undisturbed seas. This painting is one of three quiet coastal scenes by the artist in this exhibition (BHC0776 and BHC0778). Here, two Dutch men-of-war lie at anchor well off the fantastical, craggy coastline. Painted in de Vlieger’s characteristic herring-like grey and subtly suffused with wintry light, the shallow waters are perceived from a very low viewpoint and the sea is illuminated only in the centre. This same tonality is echoed in the sweeping sky, where the edges appear considerably darker and cloudier than the vast, lucent sphere in the middle. The warships floating peacefully, on the left, serve primarily to counterbalance the activity taking place on the right. A collection of men is shown ashore. Three figures stand in a group around a basket of fish. While two other men, dressed in red, stand in conversation nearby. They have come ashore seeking food, leaving their small boats behind in the shallows. Mountain goats, visible high atop the cliff in the distance, may be connotative of the sailors’ difficulty in finding food and appear in several works by the artist, notably the 'Dutch Ships Revictualling off a Rocky Coast' (BHC0778).

The coastal landscape, on the right, is compelling and beautiful. A precipitous rock formation emerges out of the water, creating an impressive pointed arch, through which shallow water passes. In the distance an outcrop is illuminated by sunlight and observed clearly. It is evident that the arch formation is an imaginary feature and its presence in marine art was symbolic. It could be either an indication of danger through shipwreck or a symbol of hope for salvation for those on board. Simon de Vlieger was the first Dutch marine artist to introduce the Gothic-looking arch over water as a visual motif. It surfaces in a number of de Vlieger’s other works and attests to the artist’s interest in geological structures. Indeed, this sensitive and highly detailed representation of the rocks demonstrates de Vlieger’s dexterity as a draughtsman as well as a painter. From 1630, he produced several drawings of rock faces and cliffs, probably depicting the environment of the north coast of Holland. His interest in unusual topography parallels the earlier work of Adam Willaerts, a painter whose métier was the representation of rocky coasts. Willaerts’ depiction of sketchy, stratified rocks in 'Dutch Ships at Anchor off a Fortified Scandinavian Town' (BHC0803) provides an obvious precedent for de Vlieger. Although, this painting has been dated to 1637, there is no signature or date visible. While a date of 1637 is entirely plausible, it is just as likely that the painting dates from the 1640s, when de Vlieger’s works explored the visual potential of motionless water.

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. Signed.

Object Details

ID: BHC0779
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Vlieger, Simon de
Date made: 1637/early 1640s; early 1640s
Exhibition: Turmoil and Tranquillity
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Ingram Collection
Measurements: Frame: 750 mm x 1245 mm x 80 mm;Overall: 16 kg;Painting: 560 mm x 1064 mm

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