When Charles II returned to the English throne in 1660 from his exile in mainland Europe, he brought with him a taste for Dutch art.
The King invited Dutch artists to settle and work in England.
Two artists, Willem van de Velde the Elder (1611-1693) and his son Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707), were among those to take Charles II up on his offer.
The pair were given a studio in the Queen’s House in Greenwich and a salary of £100 a year each:
Whereas we have thought fit to allow the salary of One Hundred Pounds per annum unto William Vandeveld the elder for taking and making of Draughts of Sea Fights, and the like Salary of One Hundred pounds per annum unto William Vandeveld the Younger for putting the said Draughts into Colour for our particular usePublic Record Office, London, February 1673/4
Van de Velde the Elder
Willem van de Velde was born in Leiden in 1611. His father was a barge master, and from an early age Willem joined his father at sea.
By the 1640s he had become an established ship's 'draughtsman', often accompanying Dutch fleets at sea to record ships and battles first-hand in his detailed drawings.
These sketches could later be worked up into his trademark 'pen paintings' or penschilderij.
Work in focus: The Battle of Scheveningen
This work records the last battle of the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–4). It is based on sketches that van de Velde the Elder made as an eyewitness to the conflict.
In the left foreground is a cargo boat flying a Dutch flag. Several men are shown on board - one of whom seems to be van de Velde himself.
He is the seated figure with his back to the viewer, wearing a hat, holding a drawing block and pencil, and looking towards the action.
A younger man standing on the left is sometimes thought to represent one of van de Velde’s sons.
Van de Velde the Younger
Born in Amsterdam in 1633, Willem van de Velde the Younger followed in his father’s footsteps as a marine artist.
While the Elder specialised as a draughtsman, van de Velde the Younger trained as a painter with Simon de Vlieger before rising to become the leading marine painter of his day.
Work in focus: A Royal Visit to the Fleet
This painting is among the largest that van de Velde the Younger ever attempted.
It records a royal reunion between Charles II and his brother James, who was then Lord High Admiral. The scene revolves around the king, whose presence is indicated by the royal ensign, which flies on board their flagship.
The low, panoramic viewpoint invites us to imagine ourselves present on the water.
Van de Velde did not finish the painting until some decades after he had started it. The picture was probably a royal commission, but why it did not enter the royal collection is a mystery.
Maritime art and the van de Veldes
The van de Veldes’ studio business established marine painting as an important strand of British art and cultural identity.
Long after their lifetime their work remained influential on artists such as J.M.W. Turner, who was a proud owner of van de Velde drawings.
The Queen's House is now home to Royal Museums Greenwich's renowned collection of van de Velde works, from detailed drawings and 'pen paintings' to panoramic oil paintings.
The artworks can be found on display throughout the House, including in the room known as the van de Velde studio.
See a selection of works in the online gallery below, and search our digital collections to explore the full range of paintings and drawings held by Royal Museums Greenwich.
in the 17th century North African raiders (often called 'Barbary pirates') attacked European shipping and coastal points as far north as southern Ireland. European naval expeditions were launched to suppress the threat. As in many of his paintings, van de Velde the Younger is not showing a particular event here: the composition is a dramatic interpretation to show off his artistic skill.
In this small painting, van de Velde the Younger portrays a sunny day on the Dutch coast.
As a ship rides out the storm, passengers in a small dinghy try desperately to attract the attention of its crew, in the hope of rescue. The sinking mast of their own vessel is still visible on the lower right. The portrait format of the canvas emphasises the drama of the light breaking through the dark clouds.
Known as ‘pen paintings’, these monochrome pictures are in fact highly detailed ink drawings on canvas or panel supports which have been varnished. Willem van de Velde the Elder was one of the first people known to have made eyewitness drawings of naval battles by travelling with the Dutch fleet, acting as an early war artist. He created large sketches on very long pieces of paper while out at sea and later used them as references to create his pen paintings, resulting in extremely detailed scenes of sea battles and other maritime activity.
Van de Velde the Elder here takes delight in detailing busy Dutch shore life. Everyday life is shown protected by the magnificent Dutch flagships. His views evoke the sense of peace and security afforded by their navy the period between the First and Second Anglo-Dutch Wars.
The Tiger, a fourth rate of 44 guns, was built in 1644, but rebuilt in 1681 when it is probable that van de Velde the Elder made this drawing. He was present when Charles II visited the ship at Woolwich in August 1681.