Willem van de Velde the Younger
- Willem van de Velde the Younger
- The English Royal Yacht Mary about to fire a Salute
- signed and dated on the ensign of the ship to the right: V v velde 1660
- oil on canvas
- 126.5 x 178 cm.; 49 3/4 x 70 in.
Presumably by descent to William Smith, 4th Viscount Hambleden (1930–2012), Hambleden, Buckinghamshire and from 1988 or shortly after in the USA;
From whom acquired by the previous owner.
The King had much admired the yacht in which he had sailed from Rotterdam on his way to The Hague prior to his departure from Scheveningen for England on 2 June 1660. As a result the City of Amsterdam opened negotiations on 28 May with the Dutch East India Company for the purchase of a yacht (not necessarily the same yacht), for the equivalent of £1,300. The Mary had initially been sprit-rigged, but by the time she was ready to sail for England before 12 August 1660 she had been converted to a gaff rig. Detailed accounts survive of her fitting-out, including a wrought copper horn for the figurehead which can clearly be seen here. At a river festival or regatta in Amsterdam on 5 June 1660 in honour of the ten-year old Prince of Orange (later William III of England) and his mother the Princess Royal, the Prince, on board the Mary, was put in command of a fleet of over a hundred yachts. The Mary arrived in the Thames on 15 August, and as Samuel Pepys records, 'and after dinner by water to White-hall, where I find the King gone this morning by 5 of the clock to see a Dutch pleasure-boat below bridge, where he dines, and my Lord with him.'1
The Mary was 52 foot long with a beam of 19 feet, and displaced 100 tons. Her hull was clad in copper and her full complement was 30. Eventually she was replaced by the Katherine, a faster yacht built for the King by Phineas Pett, and was thereafter used for transporting diplomats and civil servants, in particular across the Irish Sea. She was sunk in 1675 off Anglesey while en route from Dublin to Chester. As was the custom, a successor yacht named Mary was built, and commissioned in 1677. Fragments of the original Mary and her cargo were discovered off Anglesey in 1971 and subsequently recovered, and some 1,500 items are on display in the Merseyside Museums, together with a model of her made by Des Newton.
Van de Velde depicted the Mary in several other paintings, though never so prominently as here. She is seen with many other yachts all tacking into a breeze off Amsterdam in a painting by Willem van de Velde the Younger and his brother Adriaen van de Velde, signed by both and dated 1661 in the collection of Viscount Harcourt (see fig. 1).2 This painting depicts the festival on the river Ij at Amsterdam on 5 June 1660, and she is seen gaff-rigged, but Van de Velde would not have known if her rig had been changed by then. A drawing by Willem van de Velde the Younger at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich also records this event, and includes the Mary in the centre, although it was probably drawn a decade later.3 Two drawings in the Dutuit Collection in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Paris, however may have been done at the time. One shows the bezan and boier yachts assembled on the IJ. Although the Mary is not visible among them, a lengthy inscription on the reverse refers to the unnamed yacht with the Princess Royal and the young Prince William on board.4 The other is not inscribed, but clearly shows the Mary surrounded by rowing boats, Dutch yachts and larger vessels, perhaps while preparing to depart from Amsterdam.5
A reworked counterproof portrait drawing of the Mary seen from the port quarter (but since the image is reversed we see the starboard side of her) by Willem van de Velde the Younger (or perhaps by his father but signed by the Younger) is at the British Museum, London (offset from a black chalk drawing, with grey wash, touched with pen and grey ink; on conjoined sheets; inscribed by the artist in Dutch and W.V.V.J.; 480 x 865 mm.; see fig. 2).6 It is not certain when the drawing was made, but it was probably drawn rapidly on the spot in black chalk, and the counterproof taken from it then worked up in the studio using grey wash and touches of pen and brown ink. A man is seen working aboard. The greater likelihood is that the drawing was probably done in Amsterdam during the fitting out of the Mary in 1660, and the inscription on the drawing: Dit jaght dat aan de konningh van/engelant ...Amsterdam Stadt; underscores this probability.7
The Mary is also seen with Dutch bezan yachts in a panel formerly with Clifford Duits, circa 1950, in which she is depicted firing a salute.8 She is always depicted, as here, flying the Union flag as an Ensign, at the masthead and at the peak, with a pennant at the peak. Here, another Union flag is flown from a jack at the tip of the bowsprit.
There is no record of any celebration marking the Mary’s departure from the Netherlands for London, but what we see here is an answering salute, rather than a special occasion, so it is entirely plausible that this picture is in fact a unique record of the Mary preparing to depart, unheralded other than by salutes from other ships. The flat sandy shoreline on both sides suggests that this may be the Dutch coastline near Den Helder and the Marsdiep between the mainland and the island of Texel, the so-called Texel Roads, where there was a substantial sheltered anchorage. A ship leaving Amsterdam would sail briefly east out of the River Ij, then north following the sheltered western shore of the Zuider Zee to Den Helder before turning west and reaching the open North Sea just beyond. Dutch merchant and naval fleets would assemble at the protected anchorage from various ports around the Zuider Zee including Amsterdam before putting to sea, and indeed we see merchant vessels as well as Men O’ War at anchor in this painting.
The vessel to the right with her stern towards us is clearly meant to be identified. She displays the Arms of the Province of Holland on her tafferel, and the shields on the counter flanking the rudder stock bear the red lion and the Arms of Amsterdam. As Dr Remmelt Daalder has kindly suggested, she is most likely to be the warship Hollandia (or Klein Hollandia), a vessel that is mentioned by Gerard Brandt in his 1687 biography of Admiral De Ruyter as belonging to the Amsterdam squadron of the fleet in 1659.9 She was armed with 44 guns, the approximate number that we see here, had a crew of 190 men, and was under the command of Barent Kramer.10 The Amsterdam arms on the counter make it most unlikely that she was the better known Klein Hollandia, a Rotterdam ship under the flag of the Admiralty of the Maas, commissioned in 1654 and sunk at the Battle of Lowestoft in 1672.
It is not known whether the Hollandia accompanied the Mary from Amsterdam to London, nor what she might otherwise have been doing in the Texel Roads in early August 1660, but Van de Velde has quite deliberately placed her prominently in this picture, so we must assume she was there at the time, and for a relevant purpose.
This monumental picture was painted at exactly the time when Willem van de Velde the Younger’s small paintings of calms in inshore waters were approaching their moment of greatest achievement in the beginning of the 1660s. Although this painting is not strictly a calm, because the light airs from the south-west are gently ruffling the flags, the artist has here transposed the mood of these works onto a much larger scale. We see the same interest in gentle human activity (even the calms sometimes have a distant ship firing a salute), and the meteorological conditions that he preferred: balmy summer weather with piled up cumulonimbus clouds and above them high feathery mackerel clouds; are the same, but writ large.
This unpublished picture is a highly important addition to Willem van de Velde the Younger’s œuvre. It is most unusual in taking a Royal Yacht as its subject, and in showing a small vessel on so large a scale, revealing details of all the activity on board.
Note on Provenance
It is unclear when this picture entered the Hambleden collection. The Hon W.F.D. Smith lent a Willem van de Velde of the Departure of Charles II to the Whitechapel Pageant in 1909 (no. 211), before he succeeded to the Viscountcy upon his mother's death in 1913. It is conceivable that this is the same work with the subject misunderstood. At the very least it is evidence of his interest in Old Masters, and in Van de Velde in particular.
1. See S. Pepys, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, R. Latham and W. Matthews (eds), vol. I – 1660, London 1970, p. 222.
2. Oil on canvas, 92.7 x 152.2 cm.; see Robinson 1990, vol. 2, pp. 772–77, no. 258, reproduced.
3. See Robinson 1958, p. 123, no. 461, reproduced plate 106.
4. Grey wash over black chalk on paper, 200 x 320 mm.; see F. Lugt, Les dessins… de la collection Dutuit, Paris 1927, p. 35, no. 82, reproduced plate XLIV.
5. Grey wash over black chalk on paper, 201 x 308 mm.; see see F. Lugt, Les dessins … de la collection Dutuit, Paris 1927, p. 35, no. 83, reproduced plate XLIV.
6. See online catalogue.
7. It is nonetheless possible, though much less likely, that the drawing was made later, perhaps during a refit in London after the Van de Veldes had settled there. The chalk inscription is contemporary with the chalk under-drawing; the wash and touches of pen and brown ink may have been worked up years later.
8. Oil on panel, 35.5 x 44.8 cm.; see Robinson, 1990, pp. 777–78, no. 433, reproduced.
9. Dr Daalder communicated by email.
10. That she was one of the smaller ships in the Amsterdam Squadron would account for her also being known as the Klein Hollandia.