Lot 5
  • 5

Willem van de Velde the Elder

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Willem van de Velde the Elder
  • Zeeland Man-of-War in a Calm of a Jetty, a Rowing Boat in the Foreground
  • signed lower right with initials on the barrel: W.V.V.
  • pen and oil on panel, a penschilderij
  • 27 3/8 x 35 1 1/4 inches


Commander Grootenhuis;
By whom sold, London, Christie's, 23 July 1965, lot 83, for 1000 Guineas;
Anonymous sale, London, Sotheby's, 14 December 1977, lot 20, for £15,000;
Anonymous sale ("Property of a Gentleman"), London, Christie's, 13 December 1991, lot 26;
There purchased by the present collector.


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com , an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This oil on gessoed panel is painted on three sections of wood joined horizontally. The first join runs through the top of the masts of the boat and the second runs through the hull of the boat. On the left side approximately five inches from the left edge there is a vertical row of circular shapes which have protruded slightly from the surface, which correspond to wooden dowels used presumably in the manufacturing of this panel. A similar group is visible on the right, also approximately six inches from the left edge. On the left there are seven of these circular shapes and on the right there are six. Although these are noticeable they are original and a symptom of the manufacturing of this panel for the artist. Under ultraviolet light one can see faintly that there are restorations which have been applied along both of these panel joins but apart from retouching and a few recent losses along the top edge, there appear to be no other restorations visible either with the naked eye or under ultraviolet light. The varnish layer is quite heavy yet not unattractive. The painting has slightly yellowed and has been conspicuously under-restored, which is the correct approach, and so some of the cracks which are quite noticeable in areas are un-retouched. The painted and drawn areas are in beautiful condition and although there may be very slight thinness to some of the ships on the far right and in the rigging of the central boat, the condition is remarkably good. It would however be to the picture's advantage if the restoration were reexamined since it is not of the highest quality.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This rare and unpublished penschilderij by Willem van de Velde the Elder, one of the foremost seapainters of the mid seventeenth century, is amongst his earliest known works in this medium.  Many of his penschilderingen are in museums and seldom come on the market.  When this painting was last offered for sale in 1991 (see Provenance), the attribution was confirmed by Michael Robinson, who had been unaware of its existence when compiling his catalogue raisonn√© on the van de Veldes a year earlier.  He suggested a dating of circa 1645 for this work.

Willem van de Velde was the seminal pioneer of penschilderingen, the art of drawing with pen and ink on a prepared white ground, and his works in this genre are of considerable art historical importance.  The graphic nature of the medium allowed Van de Velde to depict the boat, its rigging, and the carving of figurehead and stern in meticulous detail making it an excellent way to accurately record both individual ships and complicated battles.  After drawing the basics of the composition, van de Velde would often add delicate washes or glazes in the sky and sea to create differing tones.

Van de Velde was a master draughtsman and his manipulation of his medium can be seen clearly in the present painting where he creates a bold decorative image. The composition is based along a strong central diagonal running from lower left in the shoreline through the ship in the centre to the vessels in the far distance upper right.  The details are described through a combination of robust cross hatching, notably lower left, and a delicate depiction of the details of the ship and far distance. The low horizon allows him to give full scope to the height and details of the mast.  The strong black against the white ground creates a sense of intense atmosphere and overall he has created an image that is both elegant and informative.

Willem van de Velde was the son of a Flemish ship's captain from Oosterwinckel and whilst nothing is known of his artistic training, Arnold Houbraken implies he was at sea before beginning his career in art.1  His first documented drawing is dated 1638 and, from 1639-40, he was occupied making designs from prints.  Little is known of his activities in the 1640s when the present work was executed, although it is known that he spent much of the 1650s at sea with the Dutch fleet.  From the present work we can deduce that he was already a highly accomplished draughtsman and an excellent observer of the minutiae of a ship's construction.  At this early stage his depiction of the humorous, reclining and bent over figures lower left is competent, if a little static, and he never quite learnt how to animate his staffage in the same way as he could a ship.  For example, the Two Dutch Merchant Ships under Sail near the Shore in a Moderate Breeze, in the Greenwich Maritime Museum, London, has an equally static group of figures on the shore lower left, despite being dated at least 15 years later.2

Van de Velde's penschilderingen, which he went on producing into his seventies, were highly sought after across Europe and were commissioned widely in Genoa, Venice, Florence, France, Sweden and, of course, England where he was invited with his son in 1672/3 by Charles II.  When the present work was offered at auction in 1965 (see Provenance) it had a sketch of Admiral Michiel Adriaensz de Ruyter added by another hand in the upper left sky, which lead to the mistaken assumption that the boat depicted was his flag ship.  This portrait had been removed by the time the painting was next offered for sale in 1977, when it was suggested that the vessel might be the Zeelandia built in 1648, bought by the Zeeland Admiralty for the first Dutch war of 1658, and captured by the English in 1665; however, such a dating would be at odds with Robinson's proposed dating of the work to 1645.

1. A. Houbraken, De Groote Schouwburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en schilderessen, vol. I, Amsterdam 1718, p.354.
2. See J. Gaschke ed., Turmoil and Tranquility, exhib. cat., London 2008, pp. 142-3, cat. no. 47, reproduced.