Fishing Boats in a Storm off the Dutch Coast at Den Helder

In this painting Abraham Storck depicts the North Sea and the Dutch coast under a threatening sky. Sun and shadow alternate on the turbulent billows. Seagulls are swept along by the strong wind. The extensive sea wall is striking: rows of wooden posts jutting out of the sea and linked by a wooden barrier, known as groynes, protect the beach from the destructive waves. In the right background, behind the sand dunes, a few houses are visible at the edge of a village. In the foreground to the right Storck has painted a fishing pink, which has been brought onto the beach on two round tree-trunk rollers. Her sails are furled and two figures are on board with several fishing pots. Three figures stand to the right; one man gestures to the shipping anchored offshore and looks towards the well-dressed couple standing to the right. Another man walking up the beach, in the foreground on the left, carries a fishing basket on his back and is accompanied by a dog. At sea a variety of shipping is shown riding out stormy conditions. Two smalschips, one with red sails and one with white, are visible left of centre. The stern of a Dutch States yacht, flying the Dutch flag, just discernible to their right. A small rowing boat heads for the shore from the direction of the yacht. In the distance, on the left, is a larger vessel, probably a merchantman. She flies the Dutch flag from an ornately decorated stern and is shown at anchor with other shipping nearby. The circumstances surrounding the painting are unknown. It is possible that the affluent man looking out to sea from the beach has a financial interest in the large merchantman anchored in the bay and may have commissioned the painting.

Abraham Storck probably created this painting shortly after 1670. The Dutch transport vessel with reddish-brown sails near the shore, also, appears on two drawings by Abraham’s brother, Jacob Storck, which are dated 1671. Storck not only alludes to the Dutch coast in this painting. He, also, quite accurately depicts the specific surroundings of the coastal village of Den Helder in the far north of the province of Holland which was known for its strong sea wall. The same view was painted by Storck’s fellow townsmen Hendrik Dubbels and Ludolf Backhuysen. Probably the most renowned example is 'A fleet at Den Helder' by Dubbels which is currently kept at the Amsterdam Historical Museum. The bluish-grey and rust-red tints which alternate with white accents are reminiscent of the large work of Dubbels. Moreover an affinity with the work of Dubbels is, also, visible in the rolling white crests on the water and the style of the staffage.
A drawing after this painting, attributed to Wigerus Vitringa, is preserved in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. Whether the drawing was indeed made by this Frisian artist can be called into question on stylistic grounds. It originates from the collection of King George III. It was supposedly created after the painting found its way from the Dutch Republic into an English collection.

The artist, Abraham Storck, trained and worked with his father and became a member of the Guild of St Luke in Amsterdam. His river and coastal scenes were influenced by Ludolf Backhuysen and Willem van de Velde the Younger. He showed considerable accuracy in depicting ships' rigging and technical details. Often his Dutch harbour and river views depict the recreational and ceremonial aspects of shipping. In particular he concentrated on showing pleasure yachts and ceremonial gatherings of ships. He, also, focused particularly on depictions of both spectators and passengers. In such work he showed great skill representing the human figure, through characterization as well as attention to costume and detail. The painting is signed 'A Storck' on the beach in the foreground.

Object Details

ID: BHC0934
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Storck, Abraham
Date made: 1670-1675; 1670-75 unknown
Exhibition: Turmoil and Tranquillity
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund.
Measurements: Painting: 216 x 305 mm; Frame: 338 mm x 417 mm x 52 mm

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