In the Second Anglo-Dutch War of 1665-67, the Dutch and French were united against the English. Because of their superiority in ship-building, in 1666 the Dutch built six ships for their French allies, one of which was Le Courtisan.
The present work is a counterproof or off-set, a technique frequently employed by Van de Velde and his son. It may have been used simply as a means of replication or to reverse a ship to fit into a composition. Robinson also suggests that because Van de Velde made so many corrections to his drawings while detailing the ships' decorations, the off-set may have been a way of giving himself a new, cleaner surface to work on (see M.S. Robinson, ‘The French Ship Courtisan by Willem van de Velde the Younger,’ in Master Drawings, vol. XIII, no. 2, pp. 160-61).
Here main elements of the design are in graphite, transferred from the original drawing, which Van de Velde works up in wash. He then uses pen and brown ink to clarify and emphasize some of the elements on the tafferel (upper part of the stern with the coat of arms, in this case those of France and Navarre).Three other depictions of this ship by Van de Velde are known, one in Greenwich (Robinson 1974, no. 1046, pl. 76), one in Rotterdam (MB 1866/T 342, Robinson & Weber vol. I, p. 128 and vol. III, pl. 311) and another in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, all of which are offsets. The Greenwich and Rotterdam versions are in reverse to the present work and of roughly the same height, but Van de Velde has extended this composition, adding strips at left and right to suggest that the ship is at sea.
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