The English Yacht 'Portsmouth' at Anchor

(Updated, August 2015) To the right is the 'Portsmouth', yacht, lying at anchor in shallow water in a calm, in starboard-broadside view. Her deck is crowded with people. She is flying a jack from the bow, the red ensign from the stern and a pennant from the main mast. Built at Woolwich by Sir Phineas Pett in 1674, this 8-gun yacht was named after the Duchess of Portsmouth (Louise de Keroualle, one of Charles II's mistresses). The detailing of the vessel has been carefully delineated and ship's boat with three people in it is lying astern. In the left background in broad starboard-quarter view is a two-decker firing a salute, with her hull mostly concealed by the smoke. She flies a small red ensign at the stern with a jack on her bowsprit, while the absence of a pennant may be due to overcleaning. In the centre distance is a ship under sail in fine-starboard-bow view. Oil paintings by van de Velde the Elder are rare and although he undoubtedly painted the hull of the ship it is possible that the sails were put in by the Younger.
Born in Leiden, van de Velde moved to Amsterdam with his two sons Adriaen and Willem, who were also painters. The former and elder painted landscapes but with Willem, the younger, he formed a working partnership specializing in marine subjects which lasted to his own death. Willem the elder was primarily a draughtsman who spent his career drawing ships and is believed to be one of the earliest artists to accompany fleets into action to record these events. He did this officially with the Dutch fleet from 1653. The resultant works, known as grisaille drawings or more accurately as pen-paintings ('penschilderingen'), were done in pen and ink on prepared lead-white panels or canvases. This technique enabled van de Velde's work to be full of detail and show his knowledge of shipping. He originally applied a cross-hatching technique to show darkness and shadow but from the 1650s increasingly used a brush to indicate shadow, clouds or waves. Van de Velde was the leading Dutch master in marine grisailles but also produced a handful of oils towards the end of his life. He briefly visited England twice, in 1661 and 1662, but by 1673 had moved there permanently with Willem the younger. Both worked for Charles II and his brother James, Duke of York, and they became the founders of the English school of marine painting. A great deal is known about him thanks to a list of his depictions of naval battles compiled in January 1678 by Captain Christopher Gunman.

The present painting is signed and dated '1675 W.V.Velde' and is one of three on panel which are survivors from a set painted by the van de Veldes for the cabin of the royal yacht 'Charlotte', built in 1677 at Portsmouth for Charles II. The others are of the 'Charles Galley' (dated 1677, BHC3254), and the 54-gun 'Woolwich' (BHC3732). For further information see Richard Endsor's article on, 'The van de Velde paintings for the Royal Yacht "Charlotte", 1677', in the 'Mariner's Mirror', vol. 94, no. 3, August 2008, pp.264-75. All were given to Greenwich Hospital by the Hon John Forbes, Admiral of the Fleet, in 1791. Forbes (1714-96) was a highly respected naval officer who had considerable historical interests and passed on much information about the Hanoverian navy to Captain William Locker, Lieutenant Governor of Greenwich Hospital in the 1790s. He presumably obtained the pictures after the 'Charlotte' was broken up and gave them to the Hospital so that they would be preserved in interested naval hands.

Object Details

ID: BHC3556
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Velde, Willem van de, the Elder
Vessels: Portsmouth 1674
Date made: 1675
People: Forbes, John
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Measurements: Frame: 904 mm x 1089 mm x 118 mm; Weight: 23.4 kg;Painting: 745 mm x 952 mm

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