PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF JOHN PIERPONT MORGAN, 2ND
inscribed in brown ink, center right: Pucsis or Purcis [?] and slightly right and above: a over a larger k in graphite and also in graphite lower down and to the left: p? and k
inscribed in graphite, verso: Widthall [Whitehall]
numbered in a later hand in graphite in the upper right corner, recto: 10
On St. George’s Day, 23 April, 1685, James II was crowned at Westminster, having travelled by river from the palace at Whitehall. The ceremonies at Westminster lasted for hours and then there was an enormous banquet for the nobility and other invited guests. The festivities continued the next day and included a remarkable firework display on the Thames for which huge decorated pontoons were built for launching the rockets.
Van de Velde was present for the outdoor celebrations, recording them as he always did. Thirteen drawings of these event are noted by Robinson, three in Greenwich and ten in Rotterdam. They vary in finish from the extremely rough sketch of The King Departing from the Westminster Stairs, in Rotterdam (MB 1866/T207, Robinson and Weber, vol. I, p. 77 and vol. II, pls. 318-19) to the highly finished Decorated Pontoon Before Whitehall, in Greenwich (Robinson 1958, no. 608, pls. 142-143). The present drawing is larger than any of these thirteen works and is remarkably bold and free. The low horizon and strong, thick strokes of graphite point to its having been made on the spot and then reworked a little later in wash.
The very freedom of the strokes makes it somewhat difficult to identify precisely the moment and location portrayed. The lightly sketched building with the square tower in the center background may, however, be Lambeth Palace (cf. a similar sketch in The King Departing from the Westminster Stairs), and the slightly more precisely depicted structure to the right could well be the Privy Stairs, where the King alighted again from his barge after the coronation. In another of the drawings of the day's festivities, in Rotterdam (MB1866/T 210, Robinson & Weber, vol. I, p. 77 and vol. III, pls 372-373 ), these stairs are shown in the left distance, and their form seems very similar to what we see in the present drawing.
Below these stairs are several standing male figures and in a barge further to the left, a standing woman, all picked out in brown ink. Above one of the figures climbing the stairs is a very large letter k. In other scenes from this series Van de Velde has used this to indicate the King. To the left and slightly below is the mysterious inscription Pucsis or Purcis. Could this be Van de Velde’s notoriously bad English for Purcell, who wrote and was in charge of the music for the coronation? It would appear that Van de Velde originally sketched both these figures more to the left, but then revised his drawing in order to highlight the events on the stairs.
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