Turmoil and Tranquillity: The sea through the eyes of Dutch and Flemish masters, 1550 – 1700

The exceptional quality of the Museum’s collection of maritime paintings from the Netherlands is showcased in this exhibition.

Exhibition: 20 June 2008 – 11 January 2009

A Dutch ferry boat before a breeze by Simon de VliegerA Dutch ferry boat before a breeze by Simon de Vlieger On 20 June 2008, The National Maritime Museum (NMM) opens Turmoil and Tranquillity: the sea through the eyes of Dutch and Flemish masters, 1550 – 1700. The works showcase the exceptional quality of the Museum’s collection of maritime paintings from the Netherlands.

The exhibition goes on display in the Museum’s 17th-century Queen’s House. Designed by Inigo Jones for Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I, her so-called ‘house of delight’ was later the studio of Willem van de Velde, father and son, maritime painters to the court of Charles II.

Turmoil and Tranquillity focuses on the emerging genre of maritime art in the Low Countries in the 17th-century. The exhibition highlights the key maritime painters of the period and demonstrates the rich aesthetic and narrative potential of the genre. By displaying both Dutch and Flemish artists, the exhibition highlights the reciprocal influences within the Netherlands and illustrates the emergence of the seascape as a distinct art form.

The period 1550 – 1700 saw dramatic shifts in the political, geographic and religious structure of Europe, in which the Dutch Republic became a great maritime power with settlements and trading posts in the East Indies, Africa and the Americas. Evolving from a broader tradition of highly coloured landscape painting, infused with religious elements, the seascape developed to become a distinctive genre of its own as part of the artistic Golden Age fuelled by the mercantile power of the protestant Dutch provinces.

Turmoil and Tranquillity examines the rising demand for maritime art as an independent painting style, with works by early Flemish masters including followers of Jan Brueghel the Elder and Joachim Patinir, Cornelis van Wieringen and Andries van Eertvelt.

The exhibition displays highly dramatic seascapes and depictions of storms and shipwrecks which characterised mid-seventeenth century Dutch seascapes. The use of allegory, with frequent examples depicting ships as symbols for the soul is traced in paintings such as the Wreck of the ‘Amsterdam’ by an anonymous Flemish artist and Adam Willaerts’ Jonah and the Whale.

The interplay between paintings of tranquil coastal waters and the assertion of a Dutch national identity is explored through the work of the principal artists of the period including Jan Porcellis, Simon de Vlieger, Ludolf Backhuysen and Jacob van Ruisdael.

In an age distinguished by Dutch exploration and expansion, the demand for ‘exotic’ maritime paintings and topographical views was fuelled by the new merchant class. Depictions of Mediterranean and Scandinavian scenes and other foreign shores, are examined through works by Hendrick van Minderhout, Simon de Vlieger, and two celebrated expatriates in Italy, Gasper van Wittel (called ‘Vanvitelli’) and Pieter Mulier the Younger, ‘the Cavaliere Tempesta’.

The overlap of seascape and history painting, brought about by a growing demand for paintings recording battles at sea and illustrious naval heroes, led to the success and international reputations of Dutch and Flemish artists. This is illustrated with works by Abraham Storck and the Willem van de Veldes, who moved to London at the request of Charles II in 1672-3 and for the next 20 years had their studio in the Queen’s House, now the home of this current exhibition.


Turmoil and TranquillityExhibition Dates:  20 June 2008 – 11 January 2009Media Preview:   19 June 2008, 09.00 – 13.00 Exhibition venue:  Queen’s House, GreenwichExhibition admission: Free Transport:  DLR Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich or rail to Greenwich.Further information:  Telephone: 0870 780 4552 or visit www.rmg.co.uk

National Maritime MuseumThe NMM, which includes the Royal Observatory and the Queen’s House at Greenwich is open: 10.00 17.00 daily.General admission to Museum galleries, Queen’s House and Royal Observatory is free.For updated information prior to visit please visit the web site: http://www.rmg.co.uk or phone 020 8858 4422.

Notes to editors:

  1. A fully illustrated catalogue, Turmoil and Tranquillity: the sea through the eyes of Dutch and Flemish masters, 1550-1700, will be published to accompany the exhibition. The book will be available to buy in the Museum shops and on-line; in hardback, price £35.00; in paperback, price £25.00.

  2. The 17th-century Queen’s House is a leading venue for maritime art. Re-opened by the Museum in 2001, after an extensive renovation, it has already featured a series of successful shows, including Sea of Faces (2001), William Hodges: the Art of Exploration (2004), the photographic exhibition The Coast Exposed (2005) and Art for the Nation (2006-08) England’s first fully classical building, is a rare surviving example of the work of Inigo Jones, who revolutionized English architecture of the period. Begun in 1616 for Anne of Denmark, queen of James I, it was completed in about 1638 for Charles I’s French queen, Henrietta Maria, as her so-called ‘house of delight’. In 1673/4 the van de Veldes set up their studio in the Queen’s House, which is now the National Maritime Museum’s principal art venue. The Museum holds the largest collection of art relating to maritime history and culture in the world. Its collection of British portraits is second only to that of London's National Portrait Gallery.

  3. The National Maritime Museum - the largest museum of its kind in the world - is housed in impressively modernized historic buildings forming part of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site. It incorporates the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, and 17th-century Queen’s House. The Museum works to illustrate for everyone the importance of the sea, ships, time and the stars and their relationship with people.

For further information or images, please contact:Nigel RubensteinNational Maritime Museum Press OfficeTel: 020 8312 6790/6732 or Email: press@rmg.co.uk