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Willem van de Velde II (Leiden 1633-1707 London)
Willem van de Velde II (Leiden 1633-1707 London)

Dutch men-o'-war and other shipping in a calm

Willem van de Velde II (Leiden 1633-1707 London)
Dutch men-o'-war and other shipping in a calm
signed 'willem:van velde f' (lower centre, on the rowing boat)
oil on canvas
34 x 47 in. (86.3 x 119.3 cm.)
Servad collection, Amsterdam; sale, Jan Yver, Amsterdam, 25 June 1778, lot 110, 'eene der beste pronkjuweelen van dezen uitmuntenden Zee-schilder, beschouwt te werden' (3,700 florins to Fouquet).
with Pierre Fouquet (1729-1800), Amsterdam, 1778, by whom presumably sold to
Claude-Joseph de Clos; his posthumous sale, Poultier, Paris, 18-19 November 1812, lot 42 'Ce chef-d'oeuvre est du nombre de ceux de ce Cabinet dont M. Clos a refusé très souvent des sommes considérables; en effet il n'est pas possible d'offrir un morceau plus capital et plus parfait de ce célèbre peintre de marine' (12,610 francs to Le Rouge).
John Webb Esq.; sale, Philips, London, 30-1 May 1821, lot 185, 'This picture formerly adorned the Cabinet Clos, and has been considered as the finest known picture of the Master' (£630). Smith records that the picture was bought-in although in the annotated copy of the Philips catalogue in the RKD 'Mr. Robarts' is recorded as the buyer. Either way, the picture was re-offered the following year:
John Webb Esq.; Philips, London, 1 June 1822, lot 138, 'The celebrated picture of the Cabinet Clos' (£603.15) to the following.
Abraham Wildey Robarts, M.P. (1779-1858), 26 Hill Street, Berkeley Square, where recorded hanging in the Dining Room in 1856; and by descent.
J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné, etc., VI, London, 1835, pp. 342-43, no. 83, 'This capital production may justly be cited as one of the master's finest works. The science of its composition, the tender sweetness and magical gradation of its tones, and the exquisite beauty of the penciling, fully entitle it to this distinction'.
G.F. Waagen, Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain, Supplement, London, 1857, p. 164, 'In every respect one of the finest works of the master'.
C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné, etc., VII,
London, 1923, pp. 37-8, no. 118.
W. Gibson, 'Mr. Robarts' Collection of Pictures', in Apollo Magazine, VIII, no. 45, September 1928, pp. 116-118, illustrated. M.S. Robinson, The Paintings of the Willem van de Veldes,
London, 1990, I, pp. 283-4, no. 619, 'Painted probably entirely by the Younger for the Van de Velde studio; c.1665).
London, British Institution, 1829, no. 8.
London, British Institution, Pictures by Italian, Spanish, French and English Masters, 1849, no. 68.
London, Royal Academy, Old Masters and deceased Masters of the British School, 1877, no. 37.
London, Royal Academy, Old Masters and deceased Masters of the British School, 1891, no. 67.

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Alexis Ashot
Alexis Ashot

Lot Essay

An exceptionally well preserved canvas, the present work has long been recognised as one of the outstanding paintings in the Willem van de Velde oeuvre. Since it was first documented in 1778 at the Servad sale in Amsterdam ('eene der beste pronkjuweelen van dezen uitmuntenden Zee-schilder'), the picture has received unanimous acclaim for its technical excellence and the serene harmony of its composition. In 1835, the renowned art dealer and chronicler of Dutch paintings John Smith pronounced it 'one of the master's finest works', and commended it for 'the science of its composition' and its 'magical gradation of tones and the exquisite beauty of the pencilling'. This view was echoed by the great connoisseur Gustav Waagen, who saw the picture in 1856 and declared it simply: 'In every respect one of the master's finest works'. More than a century later, in his seminal monograph on Van de Velde, the usually reserved Michael Robinson acknowledged 'the perfection of the drawing of the ships and the skill of its composition', comparing it in these respects to what is widely perceived to be the artist's masterpiece of his Dutch period - the monumental Calm in the Wallace Collection, London (see fig. 1).

Robinson dates the Robarts picture to circa 1665, slightly earlier than the much larger Calm in the Wallace collection which is thought to have been commissioned by Admiral Cornelis Tromp soon after 1665. The two pictures are composed along very similar lines with a central vista framed by a large ship, seen starboard bow view, coming to anchor on the left, and a merchant vessel, port quarter view, on the right. Both works also feature a barge with distinguished people and a trumpeter pulling away from the largest ship which is firing a gun to port in salute. Robinson notes that the Robarts scene probably represents the return of a fleet of Indiamen. None of the vessels can be specifically identified although the ship on the right bears the coat-of-arms of the city of Amsterdam on her stern.

Willem van de Velde had begun painting calm marines with towering skies and numerous boats of varying types retreating into the distance, by the early 1650s, no doubt under the influence of his teacher Simon de Vlieger. These works were often based on designs made by his father - Willem van de Velde the Elder - in grisaille penschilderijen which were then transformed into coloured paintings by the younger Van de Velde. The precise nature of this working relationship is hinted at by an English Royal warrant of 1674 which specified equal payments to the two artists; to the father: 'for taking and making Draughts of seafights'; and to his son: 'for putting the said Draughts into colours for our particular use'. Robinson actually remarks that the Robarts picture shows more clearly than in most works how successfully this was achieved. As further noted by Robinson, a loosely related drawing by Willem van de Velde the Younger was included in the Cremer sale; Sotheby's Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, 17 November 1980, lot 111, illustrated.

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