PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION (LOTS 211-212)
A PAIR OF SOLEBAY TAPESTRIES
These magnificent tapestries represent the only two panels that remain in private hands from two sets of six Royal tapestries each depicting The Sea Battle at Solebay. The series was originally commissioned by King James II from William van de Velde (d. 1707) in 1672. During the English- Dutch war Van de Velde had followed the events from the Dutch side and recorded the battles in drawings. He moved to England shortly after the war and adapted the drawings on the King's request for the tapestry series. In January 1674 he is recorded as being 'paid a hundred a year' for 'taking and making draughts of sea-fights', while van de Velde's son is paid to put these drawings into colour. Indeed on a drawing at the University of Leiden, he wrote 'this is the same view and happening marked v., but arranged with a higher horizon at the wish and command of the King and the Duke to make it suitable for a tapestry in height and breadth, but everything in it is taken from the drawing made from life.'
The first set of six tapestries was executed by both Francis and Thomas Poyntz at the Royal Mortlake Tapestry Workshop for James II and hangs today at Hampton Court and at the National Maritime Museum. A second set was commissioned by King James II for George Legge, Baron Dartmouth in 1688. George Legge was a close friend of James II and served as captain of the 'Fairfax' during the battle of Solebay. A letter dated 17 May 1688 from the Secretary of the Treasury to Viscount Preston, Master of the Great Wardrobe, records the commission as a gift. However, the tapestries were never presented to Legge as James II was driven into exile by the Revolution before the set could be completed. It is probable that Poyntz sold it off after completion.
Three tapestries of the Dartmouth set were in the collection of Sir Gerald Codrington, Dodington Park, Chipping Sodbury, and sold at Christie's, London, 12 July 1923 to G.H. Lorimer of Philadelphia. G. Burford Lorimer bequeathed them to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where they remain today. The only two other panels from that set known to have survived are the lots here offered. The last subject is untraced.
THE 1ST BARON DARTMOUTH
George Legge, son of William Legge and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir William Washington of Packington, was a Lieutenant in the Dutch War of 1665-7, Captain in 1667, Governor of Portsmouth in 1670 and Lieutenant General of Ordnance in 1672. He participated in the battle of Solebay commanding the 'Fairfax'. Legge subsequently commanded in Flanders in 1678 and was created Baron Dartmouth, of Dartmouth in Devon in 1682. The following year he was sent to demolish Tangiers. He became Governor of the Tower in 1685 and was Admiral and Commander of the Fleet 1688-89, when his set of tapestries was being woven. However, he was accused of conspiring against William III and ironically committed to the Tower in 1691.
The series commemorated the sea battles of 28 May 1672 where the English fleet under the James, Duke of York (later James II) and the Earl of Sandwich collaborated with the French fleet under Vice Admiral Comte d'Estrées, with a total of one hundred and forty ships, against the Dutch under Admiral de Ruyter with ninety-one men-of-war, fifty-four fireships and twenty-three tenders. The allied fleet was anchored in fog at Southwold or Solebay, off the coast of Suffolk and was surprised by the Dutch attack that morning. Admiral Banckert drew the French fleet off to the south. De Ruyter in the 'Seven Provinces' attacked the Duke in 'Royal Prince' which was so badly damaged that it had to be abandoned for the 'Saint Michael' which met the same fate and was abandoned for the 'London'. The Earl of Sandwich died in his flagship 'The Royal James' in the battle against Van Ghent. The twelve hours ended in both sides claiming victory.
The six tapestries of this series show successive episodes in the battle:
1.The Dutch fleet appears at dawn
2.The English fleet attacked by the Dutch
3.Ships engaged in action
4.The fleets drawn up in line for battle
5.The burning of the Royal James
6.Fireships in action
(W.G. Thomson, Tapestry Weaving in England, London, 1914, pp. 104 - 105, M. Jourdain, 'Lord Iveagh's Solebay Tapestries', Country Life, 16 March 1929, pp. 351 - 353)