A Fleet of Whalers

Unlike de Vries’ portrayal of whaling (BHC0798), van Salm’s expedition takes place far away from any discernible land, exemplifying a different type of whaling practice known as pelagic whaling or sea fishing. A broad sky, in place of a coast, filled with impalpable patches of seemingly static clouds dominates the work. The sea, which comprises only about a third of the composition, gently ripples beneath several exquisitely rendered sailing vessels. On the left ice has formed into thick sheets which float gracelessly in the sea. The overall blanched appearance of this piece may allude to the reflective relationship between the ice and the sky commonly referred to by whalers as ‘ice-blink’. ‘Where the ice is fixed upon the sea,’ wrote the Dutch voyager Friedrich Martens in 1671, ‘you see a snow-white brightness in the skies, as if the sun shined; for the snow is reflected by the air, just as a fire by night is …’

Two colossal whales surface above the crisply delineated waves. The whale on the left is harpooned by a boat crew of Dutch whalers while, in the foreground, on the right, another expels a rigid jet of water into the air. Several other whales, each targeted by one or more boats, are pictured towards the horizon. Their awkward appearance is entirely at odds with the fastidious and accurate depiction of the shipping. Van Salm’s aptitude for penschilderij, the technique of drawing onto a prepared oil ground using a reed pen and Indian ink, has attracted comparisons with Willem van de Velde the Elder. Van de Velde was, most likely, the inventor of this particular technique (BHC0277 and BHC0280).

By the end of the seventeenth century marine painters and their patrons had cultivated a taste for scenes depicting Dutch enterprises in far-off Arctic waters. This diminutive pen-painting illustrating a whaling fleet was doubtless produced as a means of celebrating the success and prosperity of the Dutch whaling industry which reached its apex in 1721. Van Salm was a specialist in the depiction of whaling scenes: his oeuvre consists almost exclusively of whaling pictures, with a few representations of herring fishing, and all known examples are penschilderij. At least one near-identical version of the present picture exists with only few subtle differences and is, also, undated.

Adriaen van Salm’s exact date of birth in Delfshaven is unknown, although, it is believed to have been around 1660. His marriage to Annetje Roelofs van de Veur was recorded near Rotterdam on 16 June 1686. That same year, van Salm began teaching reading and writing in Schonderloo, also, near Rotterdam. By 1693 he was living in Delfshaven again, where he pursued his career as a teacher and simultaneously worked for the civic militia. It was not until 1706 that he joined the Guild of St Luke in nearby Delft as a ‘master draughtsman’. Van Salm remained in Delfshaven until 1719, specializing in the production of pen-paintings or penschilderij. The artist referred to himself and signed his pictures as both ‘Van Salm’ and ‘Van der Salm’. He died and was buried in Delfshaven in 1720.

Object Details

ID: BHC0954
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Salm, Adriaen van
Date made: circa 1710
Exhibition: Turmoil and Tranquillity
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Macpherson Collection
Measurements: Painting: 275 mm x 395 mm; Frame: 412 mm x 528 mm x 50 mm

Your Request

If an item is shown as “offsite”, please allow eight days for your order to be processed. For further information, please contact Archive staff:

Tel: (during Library opening hours)

Click “Continue” below to continue processing your order with the Library team.