Lot 30
  • 30

Willem van de Velde the Younger

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
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  • Willem van de Velde the Younger
  • A Dutch ship at anchor drying sails and a kaag under sail
  • oil on canvas


Sir Henry Houghton, Bart., London;
By whom sold, 1893;
P.A.B. Widener (1834-1915), Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pa.;
By descent to his son, Joseph E. Widener (1871-1943), Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pa.;
With the Bachstitz Gallery, The Hague, by 1923;
From whom purchased in 1925, by Ralph H. Booth (1873-1931), Grosse Point, Mi.;
Thence by descent in the family to the present owners.


Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, The Third Loan Exhibition of Old Masters:  Italian, Flemish, Dutch, German, French, Spanish and English, Fifteenth to Nineteenth Century, 22 March - 4 April 1926, no. 37;
Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, The Ninth Loan Exhibition:  Dutch Genre and Landscape Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, 16 October - 10 November, 1929, no. 77.


Catalogue of Paintings Forming the Private Collection of P.A.B. Widener, Ashbourne -- Near Philadelphia.  Part II:  Early English and Ancient Painting, Paris 1900, no. 273, reproduced;
C. Hofstede de Groot and W.R. Valentiner, Pictures in the Collection of P.A.B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania:  Early German, Dutch and Flemish Schools, Philadelphia 1913, reproduced;
C. Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendensten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrunderts, vol. VII, Esslingen 1918, p. 33, no. 99 (2);
G. Gronau, The Bachstitz Gallery Collection, vol. III:  Objects of Art and Paintings, Berlin n.d., "Introduction" and reproduced pl. 98;
Bulletin of Bachstitz Gallery, The Hague, October 1923, reproduced;
W.R. Valentiner, The Third Loan Exhibition of Old Masters:  Italian, Flemish, Dutch, German, French, Spanish and English, Fifteenth to Nineteenth Century, exhibition catalogue, Detroit 1926, under "Foreward" and cat. no. 37;
W.R. Valentiner, The Ninth Loan Exhibition: Dutch Genre and Landscape Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, exhibition catalogue, Detroit Insitute of Arts 1929, no. 77, reproduced;
M.S. Robinson, Van de Velde:  A Catalogue of the Paintings of the Elder and the Younger Willem van de Velde, London 1990, vol. I, pp. 265-268, no. 13 (1), reproduced.


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 painting looks very well. The lining is postwar but effective. The retouching is also good. The retouches are only visible under ultraviolet light; as one would expect, they address some cracking and slight thinness that have developed in the sky and in the water in the lower left. The vessels seem to be very healthy. The condition of the rigging, which so often shows abrasion, seems to be good in this picture. The retouching here is extremely careful and focused and there may be some work the sharper details in the vessels, but this is certainly a work which is very well preserved.
"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

In this evocative seascape, Willem van de Velde captures the mood of a quiet late afternoon on the water.  The sea is calm, only the gentlest ripples marring its smooth surface, and the banked clouds serve more as a visual contrast to the blue sky than as harbingers of a storm.   In the right center is a small merchant ship at anchor, her sails loosed to dry in the light breeze.  In the left foreground is a small kaag, or fishing boat, its mainsail and flags fluttering slightly, echoing those of the larger but more distant ship.  The scene is carefully composed, the different vessels essentially arranged along a horizontal line, but set a varying distance from the viewer so that balance is achieved.

During the first half of his career, Van de Velde specialized in painting calms such as this, creating a remarkable variety of works within the parameters he had set for himself.   The earliest date from about 1653; the present work is from about 1660, generally considered to be Van de Velde’s finest period.  Here the artist combines a remarkable precision of detail with a seamless luminosity, so that we can see every detail of actual ships’ rigging and hulls and, at the same time, their shimmering reflections in the surface of the water.   A Dutch Ship at Anchor is somewhat larger than many of these paintings of calms and Van de Velde has reduced the setting to a minimum, with no foreground figures and only a tiny strip of land visible in the distance, creating a sense of space and tranquility. 

As was often the case, this composition was copied both in the studio and by later artists.  Robinson listed six other versions, five of which are more compact in form, with the ships closer together.1  He knew of only one other “spread out” version, from the collection of Ludwig Freiherr von Schacky, but considered the present canvas the prime version.2 

Although we know little of the early history of A Dutch Ship at Anchor, since the beginning of the 20th century it has been in a number very distinguished American collections.  It was acquired in 1893 or later by Peter A. Widener, who was a supplier to the Union Army during the civil war and made a fortune developing public transportation systems for major American cities.  One of his great passions was art, and he put together an extraordinary collection that he housed in Lynnewood Hall, a Tudor style mansion outside Philadelphia, built for the purpose.  Among the paintings he owned were Raphael’s Small Cowper Madonna,  Van Dyck’s Marchesa Elena Grimaldi Cattaneo and Rembrandt’s The Mill, all given to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., by his son, Joseph E. Widener, following his father’s wishes.    The present work was acquired by the Bachstitz Gallery, who sold it to Ralph Harmon Booth, a newspaper publisher and later a diplomat.  One of the early supporters of the Detroit Institute of Arts, he and his family gave the museum Bronzino’s remarkable Eleonora of Toledo among other works and also contributed substantially to the National Gallery of Art.  However, the present work was kept by the family and only now has reappeared on the market.

1. M.S. Robinson, op. cit., pp. 265-268.
2.  Ibid.