The leftmost ship is identifiable by its tafferel decoration showing Jupiter riding an eagle. Beneath is an inscription which may end ANNO 1651. Robinson (see Literature) identifies the scene depicted as an actual event in 1653. Following a defeat in the battle of Leghorn in March 1653 during the first Anglo-Dutch War, the British squadron in the Mediterranean was forced to withdraw leaving English trade ships unprotected, and the remaining Dutch squadron free to prey on ships coming to and from the Levant. Severe storms in December of that year led to a Dutch ship, the Star (Ster), being wrecked in the Gulf of Lyon. Some of the crew managed to escape by boat, and were picked up by one of the English prizes, being escorted by the Dutch ship Jupiter, which also failed to reach its destination and is thought to have floundered in the Gulf of Lyon. Both these ships were listed as lost at sea in 1653, corroborating the report of Charles Longland, the English consul at Leghorn, who wrote ‘The Duch themselves report they have lost two of theyre men of war fownderd in the Gulf of Lyon by fowle wether. The one of 30 guns the other 36’ (PRO London, SP18,65).
Willem van de Velde the younger is renowned as the greatest marine painter of the Dutch Golden Age. His remarkable skill with the brush, his understanding of light and his profound knowledge of and interest in weather conditions, which he would very often experience first-hand out on the water with pen and paper, breathed life into all of his subjects. This painting is amongst his most dramatic but it is as exceptional for its narrative as it is for the realism of its heavy seas and the accuracy with which the ships are drawn and painted. It is a painting described by Robinson as amongst his finest works of the 1680s, and he compares it to the great Squall in the Rijksmuseum, painted at a very similar moment in the artist’s career.2
The painting has the distinction of having been part of the eminent collection of the Scottish landowner H.A.J. Munro of Novar (1797-1864), by coincidence the gentleman collector and patron responsible for the commission of the last lot in this sale, J.M.W. Turner’s Rome, from Mount Aventine. Though he inherited just one painting from his father, a Murillo, by the time of his death Munro had amassed some two and half thousand ancient and modern pictures; they were sold in a series of seven auctions that aroused great public interest. A very large number of the most important works in the collection are now to be found in major international museums. Dr. Waagen, who visited him on several occasions, noted on his first visit in 1835 that Munro had only just begun collecting and he was rather dismissive of the collection as it stood. This view, however, by the time of his second visit in 1850, and third in 1851, would transform into one of the utmost praise. For more information on Monro’s collection please see the note to the Turner, the last lot in the sale.
1. See Robinson, op. cit, cat. no. 384.
2. Ibid., cat. no. 57.
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