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Willem van de Velde the Elder (c.1611-93), Mary of Modena embarking at Gravesend 1673, graphite, some black chalk, strengthened with pen and ink, grey wash, on paper. Bequeathed by Sir Bruce Ingram, 1963, PD.809-1963

The Elder and Younger Willem van de Velde represent the pinnacle of marine painting. Born in Leiden and active in Amsterdam, father and son had moved to London by January 1673 to work for King Charles II. They were given accommodation and a studio in the Queen’s House, Greenwich, where they painted for royalty and the aristocracy for nearly twenty years.
Made up of six pieces of paper joined together, this is one of a series of eleven drawings by the Elder all of which record Mary of Modena’s journey across France to London. She married James, Duke of York, later James II, by proxy on 30th September 1673, and was greeted by him at Dover on 21 November. Together they went to Gravesend to meet Charles II, and are here shown embarking on their journey by barge to Whitehall with the King. The event is described in Van de Velde’s own handwriting, in Dutch in the top left corner.
 


Willem van de Velde the Elder (c.1611-93), Study of the Dutch ship ‘De Eendracht’ seen from starboard quarter 1665, graphite, grey wash, on paper. Bequeathed by Sir Bruce Ingram, 1963, PD.787-1963

Drawn with remarkable detail and accuracy, this is a ‘ship portrait’ of ‘De Eendracht’ (The Concord or The Union). It was a Dutch warship with seventy-two guns, built in Rotterdam in 1653. Commanded by Admiral Jacob Opdam (1610-65), the ship was destroyed in 1665 during the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-67). Van de Velde made seven other drawings of ‘De Eendracht’, its pair can be seen below, while the others are in the collections of the Boijmans-Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam and the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Greatly admired for his draughtsmanship, Van de Velde is especially important for his lead role in pen paintings. These had the appearance of engravings, but were highly detailed works drawn with pen onto a prepared wooden panel or canvas.
 


Willem van de Velde the Elder (c.1611-93), Study of the Dutch ship ‘De Eendracht’ seen from the port bow 1665, graphite, grey wash, on paper. Bequeathed by Sir Bruce Ingram, 1963, PD.788-1963

Artists did not often depict people at work on ships but here Van de Velde includes figures on the side of ‘De Eendracht’ and in the water weighing (raising) the anchor. From 1665 to 1780 the basic rate of pay for a naval seaman remained unchanged at fifteen guilders a month. The navy had difficulty in recruiting men, and on occasion the authorities would restrict the movement of merchant ships especially during wartime to encourage sailors to seek work in the navy.
While the ships looked ornate and impressive from the outside, inside they were dark with light only coming in through a few hatches and gun-ports. Conditions on board were unpleasant and insanitary: lice, fleas and rats were rife as were scurvy, dysentery and pneumonia.

 


Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707), A ship’s boat red-brown, chalk, touched with grey wash on pale-brown paper. Bequeathed by Sir Bruce Ingram, 1963, PD.811-1963

According to an account from 1674, Charles II paid the Van de Veldes one-hundred pounds a year. The Elder was employed for ‘taking and making Draughts of seafights’ and the Younger for ‘putting the said Draughts into Colours’. Their works are often hard to tell apart, but the father is usually credited as being the better draughtsman. The assessment seems unfair in this case, as this ship’s boat has been drawn freely and confidently.
It has been suggested that this is a counterproof, whereby an impression is printed by placing a fresh sheet on top of another work (in this case another chalk drawing), resulting in a fainter copy in reverse. However this is unlikely as the chalk lines here are too strong.

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