Two English Ships Wrecked in a Storm on a Rocky Coast

Prominently positioned, in the right foreground, is a ship viewed from before the port beam. Heavy seas break over the fore part as it sinks close to the towering rocks. Her mainmast has gone and, although the foremast and mizzen mast are still standing, her topmasts have been carried away. She has a tattered red ensign on a staff at the taffrail, tattered remnants of sails, lines flying loose in the storm and figures clinging to the rigging. One figure clings to her spritsail top at the extreme end of the bowsprit. Although the rest of the bow is submerged. The pitch of the ship reveals figures huddled on what is left of the deck, awaiting their inevitable fate. In the right corner there is a rock onto which three men have climbed to safety. Beyond a second ship, in starboard-bow view, is about to be driven onto the craggy shore. Her foremast is standing and there is a plain red pennant at that masthead. Only the main lower mast remains and the mizzen mast has been carried away just below the top. Men can be seen desperately clinging to the rigging and to ropes dangling over the side. On the left two other ships are visible in the distance. The one on the far left is labouring in the heavy sea while the other, flying the red ensign and red pennants, appears to be lying at anchor. The dark clouds of the stormy sky break, in the centre of the painting, behind the principal ship and display a glowing pink and orange light. This increases in intensity on the breakers around the ship that is wrecked as well as on the sails of the ship about to be run aground.

The composition of this painting repeats a convention used frequently by Dutch artists working earlier in the century such as Jacob Bellevois (BHC0837) and Jan Theunisz Blanckerhoff (BHC0921). In which, typically, ships are shown being driven by the wind onto rocks on the right of the painting. Van de Velde emphasizes the drama by the use of strong colour, silhouetting the ships against the sky and foam as well as tilting the foreground ship to engage the viewer. This work is broadly painted for dramatic effect in the sky and sea but, as might be expected of a late work, may show evidence of a studio assistant’s work in places. Around 1700 van de Velde made a number of small drawings of ships driven ashore. These drawings were possibly for the use of the studio. In particular one of these drawings, a rapid sketch, with the letter ‘L’ (= light) inscribed in the sky may be a preparatory study for a painting of similar subject and date to this work. Although, an English subject and painted for the English market, we can deduce from the flags that this late work, thought to date from about 1700, may represent the ultimate development of the Dutch shipwreck painting. Its composition is similar to that of a larger painting by van de Velde the Younger at Loseley House, near Guildford, Surrey which is dated 1696. Vertue described the Loseley painting as ‘one of the finest Vandevelds storms. & Large. that ever he painted.’

Between his arrival in England and his death Van de Velde produced a large number of paintings showing storms and shipwrecks. An early example of one of these work is in the Museum’s collection, signed and dated ‘In Londen 1672’. In addition, in 1673, he painted a similar subject for one of four over-doors intended for the Duchess of Lauderdale’s bedchamber at Ham House. 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. Increasingly he concentrated 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, as well as 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. The painting is signed 'W. Van de Velde J'.

Object Details

ID: BHC0907
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Velde, Willem van de, the Younger
Date made: circa 1700
Exhibition: Turmoil and Tranquillity; Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude
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: 1455 mm x 1990 mm x 80 mm;Painting: 1245 mm x 1780 mm;Overall weight: 79 kg;

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