Three hundred and fifty years ago, when England and the Dutch Republic were at war, a family of Dutch artists fled Holland to serve the King of England. The paintings made by Willem van de Velde the Elder and his son were to change English art.
To mark the anniversary of their arrival in Greenwich, a free exhibition of their works will open next year.
The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich holds the largest collection of Van de Veldes artwork in the world and is a long-standing center of Van de Velde expertise.
The exhibition will pay tribute to these two artists, whose work in their Queen’s House studio transformed British visual culture and inspired future generations of artists, including JMW Turner.
Willem van de Velde the Elder and his son Willem van de Velde the Younger were among the most important and influential marine painters of the 17th century.
After the Rampjaar of 1672, the outbreak of the Franco-Dutch War and its peripheral conflict the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the Van de Veldes left the Netherlands for England at the invitation of Charles II, who gave them awarded a salary of £100. a year – equivalent to that of his ‘Principal Painter’, Sir Peter Lely – and a studio at Queen’s House in Greenwich.
Together, they will become the founders of the English school of marine painting.
Willem van de Velde the Elder was a self-taught draughtsman who pioneered the “pen painting” technique, allowing him to capture the likeness of a ship or a naval battle in stunning detail. He was also a war journalist, who went to sea to sketch ships and record naval actions, witnessing historical events such as the Battle of Solebay, the last naval battle in which James, Duke of York (later James II) enlisted.
This son, however, worked in oil, often using his father’s detailed drawings as raw material. He trained with Simon de Vlieger and collaborated closely with his father, creating more dramatic atmospheric paintings, particularly the stormy landscapes which appealed to an English market. These works would establish his reputation as one of the leading marine painters of the 17th century and are said to have led Turner to say, “It made a painter of me.”
From their studio in Queen’s House, their home for twenty years, the Van de Veldes revolutionized marine painting in Britain and established a genre that endures today.
One of the most important items in the exhibition will be the newly preserved painting, A Royal Visit to the Fleet, which, at almost four meters in diameter, was the largest seascape that Van de Velde the Younger painted in this day.
The burning of the Royal James at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672, also known as ‘The Solebay Tapestry’, will also return to this exhibition. This monumental tapestry has been saved from further deterioration and is able to return for the first time in over twenty years.
Alongside these monumental works, a selection of the 1,400 drawings from the collection of the National Maritime Museum will be exhibited. The 1,400 drawings have also been digitized and will be put online as soon as the exhibition opens.
The Van de Veldes: Greenwich, Art and the Sea exhibition opens next March and will run until the end of the year. Admission to Queen’s House is free.