1633 Leiden – 1707 London
Canvas, 82 x 65 cm
The principal motif of the painting is a Dutch Three-master, which is seen in the foreground in rear view and has a golden lion in the crest. The stern section is not painted strictly parallel to the picture plane. The ship turns slightly to the right and thus oriented, there is a little bit to see of the fire power of its two canon decks.
Supplemented by the other vessels, which are mainly ships of the same type - the frigates left and right in the back and middle ground - which give paints for estimating distances, contribute to the expanse of visibility, as well as to the compositional accentuation.
The Golden Lion - thanks to the exceptionally modest appearance of the rest of the vehicle - owes its outstanding presence to the format. By the loose distribution of a sensitively differentiated light- darkness, which constructs the sea-atmosphere and which is saturated with moisture and light, the atmosphere comes to live. Clouds rise from below, like a moving aura of light streaks, capturing the complex architecture of the Three-master. The representation is free of meaning and emotional content. The cannon-covered side of the Golden Lion triggers the feeling of deadly threat, but with the view of the small boat to the right, in which fishermen catch a net, turns the all over impression into the positive. Thus, the simple activity of the fishermen is a sign of a life of peace and security, one of the goals for which Holland's line ships have fought at that time.
The calm weather does not indicate, but the arrival of the ship. Sailors are leaving the shrouds. At the mast the topgallant sail is loosened, at the mizen the topsail. The anchor is not ejected. The final berth position does not yet appear to have been reached, and so the three-mast is towed on the way there, a maneuver to which the sloop may be related, which is connected to the bow by a rope and is rowed.
Verism in the reproduction of the ship has almost reached portrait character. The question as to whether the Golden Lion existed real or whether it was a creation of artistic fantasy remains and has to be examined. An identification with the Gouden Leeuw, Cornelis Tromps Admiral's ship, which the two van de Veldes have shown several times, can be excluded. Holland's coat of arms, the lion, is a common identification mark in the "landsschepen", the ships of the country. The animal embodies strength, courage and arrogance, virtues that are used in the conflicts at sea, but wich are also of general validity. In the Three-Master version the old- fashioned metaphor of the state ship seems to have been brought to light. The Golden Lion symbolizes Holland. The Dutch tricolor is hoisted on all masts, also at the stern of the ship. It is a large piece of cloth, which reaches down to the crest of the coat of arms, and thus surrounds the lion as a national-colored drapery.
Stylistically, the image is closely linked to the so-called cannon shot of Willem van de Velde the Younger in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum. The composition is almost identical, even if in the antithesis. The Three - Master is not shown with the view to the stern, but in the view to the bow. There is no doubt as to the authenticity of the painting, which M. S. Robinson assigned to the English period of the painter, and dated around 1680 (op. Cit., Pp.292-96, No. 56). Our painting should be dated at the same time. References such as the nuanced palette, the directness of the painting method, the accuracy in detail confirm this. Already Laurens J. Bol (The Dutch Marinemanery ..., 1973, p.236) praises the "fairly broad", but nevertheless "bold and accurate" brushwork of the Amsterdam seascape, a judgment which can be transferred to our painting. The main attraction in the Amsterdam painting is likewise a Dutch Three-Master. There is no need to derive any indication of the painter's stay in the Netherlands. He probably created Dutch motivated seascapes in London, for people who lived there.
The Cannon Shot gave him recognition and triggered subsequent orders. The work group around the Amsterdam painting also includes the seascape presented here, and like this, it is a work of its own in each part. The intellectual narrative, the balanced and clear structure, the meticulously captured sailors, as well as the coloured and broken-down light-values as an expression of mood.
Jan Kelch, Berlin
Private Collection France