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 use

Public Record Office, London, February 1673/4
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An engraving of the 17th century artist Willem van de Velde the Elder

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 

A detailed drawing of a naval engagement, seen as if from above the battle

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.

A detail from the van de Velde painting The Battle of Scheveningen, 10 August 1653

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.

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An engraving of 17th century artist Willem van de Velde the Younger

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 

A large panoramic oil painting showing a naval scene, with Charles II's flagship on the right hand side

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. 

Close-up detail of the royal ensign flying on the flagship in the painting A Royal Visit to the Fleet by Willem van de Velde the Younger

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.

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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.

Oil painting of a Navy battleship from the 17th century
The English Ship 'Royal Sovereign' with a Royal Yacht in a Light Air by Willem van de Velde the Younger (BHC3614)

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.