Review: The Van de Veldes: Greenwich, Art and the Sea

I've visited the exhibition of The Van de Veldes: Greenwich, Art and the Sea twice now. However while referencing it extensively in relation to the Landscape Artist of the Year Commission, I've added the review to my long list of "things to do/blog about" without striking it off the very long list.

So this is my review.

What's the exhibition about?

The exhibition celebrates two two Dutch Golden Age artists Willem van de Velde the Elder and his son, Willem van de Velde the Younger – some 350 years after they came to Greenwich following an economic meltdown in Holland.

a corner of the exhibition showing both drawings and paintings
by both father and son

It highlights:

  • their maritime drawings (by father) and paintings ( by son_ and 
  • their connections to both 
    • the Netherlands, England and its King in general and 
    • Greenwich and the Queens House in particular
  • how they influenced other painters – including WM Turner.

It also draws upon the largest collection of the Van de Veldes’ artwork in the world. This is held at the The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich which is recognised as a longstanding centre of Van de Velde expertise.

In addition, the Queen’s House at Greenwich became the home of the studio granted to the two artists by Charles II.

Details of the Exhibition

The exhibition is:

The Queen's House, Greenwich – March 2023

London from Greenwich Hill (1672)
attributed to Johannes Vorsterman 
– a dutch painter who also worked for Charles II
The painting is currently in an exhibition at the Guildhall Gallery, City of London
It shows the Queens House on the extreme left
at the time the Van der Veldes arrived in London
(and which I saw the morning before my second visit!)
Note the ships on the River Thames

Who were the Van de Veldes?

To my mind, this exhibition is much more interesting once you know who the Van de Veldes are and something of the historical context for all the sea battles. This helps to make sense of the diversity of artwork – albeit it's all about ships and battles at sea!
Willem van de Velde the Elder and Willem van de Velde the Younger were the most important and influential marine painters of the seventeenth century. 
Father and son moved from the Netherlands to England after Het Rampjaar, or "the Disaster Year" of 1672 when the Netherlands were invaded or threatened from all sides and the economy crashed. This in turn severely affected the art market. Vermeer, for example, was unable to sell any of his work. 
The Van de Veldes moved to England at the invitation of Charles II. He awarded them:
  • a salary equivalent to that of his ‘Principal Painter’, Sir Peter Lely; and 
  • a studio at the Queen’s House – where they worked for the next 20 years.

Together, they became the founders of the English school of marine painting – and established a new genre of painting which persists today.

Both remained in London and are buried at St James, Piccadilly.

Willem van de Velde the Elder (1610 – 1693)

Van de Velde the Elder was the son of a Leiden bargemaster who became the official artist of the Dutch fleet for a period. He was a self-taught draughtsman who pioneered the technique of ‘pen painting’, allowing him to capture a ship’s likeness or a naval battle in astonishing detail. He specialised in documenting the action in a Dutch Sea Battle – of which there were more than a few!

Van de Velde the Elder sat drawing the Battle of Scheveningen
– the last battle of the first Anglo-Dutch War – from a ship at sea
– pen and ink (extract from the drawing below)

The Battle of Scheveningen, 10 August 1653
a pen painting or grissaille by Willem van de Velde the Elder
(the boat he's sat in is shown bottom left of centre)


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