Oil paintings, Fine art, The Rise of the Seascape, Maritime Art Greenwich

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A Dutch and an English Ship off a Harbour

Oil paintings

Object connections:

Collection Oil paintings, Fine art, The Rise of the Seascape, Maritime Art Greenwich
ExhibitionsTurmoil and Tranquillity
Gallery locationNot on display

Object details:

Object ID BHC0732
Description Shipping off a harbour forms the subject of this cabinet piece which is one of a pair of early marine paintings on copper (see also BHC0733). This depiction of two large ships off a harbour exudes calm. On the right, one flies the Dutch flag from its foremast. It is in full sail as it moves across the harbour. A smaller vessel sails in its wake and another coastal craft is shown in the foreground. An English ship, on the left of the painting, is shown, in port-broadside view, moving through the water towards the land. It flies St. George's flag at the stern and a red and white ensign, the Stuart colours, from the main. Minutely rendered human figures are busily at work on board all of the craft and, in particular, can be seen climbing up the rigging of the large vessel on the right. Tiny calligraphic waves, executed in crisp, dazzling white, are painted around the larger vessels. Not only do such details indicate motion in the otherwise still water but they, also, provide a palpable contrast to the viridian expanse in the foreground. Spatial recession is created within the composition through the deliberate spacing between the main ships which opens the pictorial space and unites the dark foreground with the land in the background. This is aided by the employment of increasingly pale shades of green which become milky and spectral at the horizon. The townscape is rendered faintly in the distance, painted in muted greens and browns. Houses, hills, steeples, towers and windmills, on the extreme right, are dotted along the flat horizon. Although the exact location depicted remains unidentified, such details are all quintessentially Dutch and, therefore, the painting was probably executed during de Verwer’s residence in Amsterdam in the 1620s. The practice of painting with oils on copper was well suited to the production of resplendent, polished images that merited close and careful examination within a domestic context. In the early seventeenth century, the widespread practice of painting in oil on copper reflected changes in taste, artistic convention, the advance in mining and manufacturing technology, the economy, and the desire for small paintings. The explosive growth of the practice saw the development of the dazzling visual effects that could be achieved, and painting on copper flourished in this climate. Together with its pair, the painting is intended to show contrasting stormy and calm scenes with moralistic overtones and is typical of such works of the period. The paintings are in the Flemish or Antwerp tradition of artists such as Jan Brueghel, 1568-1625, the son of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, known as 'Velvet' Brueghel from practice he had learnt while in Rome. He achieved fame for his detailed landscapes and often collaborated with other artists notably Peter Paul Rubens. This pair of paintings by de Verwer, which have been tentatively dated to around 1625, is highly unusual within the context of his other known works. The ships are proportionately smaller and appear more cumbersome in execution and the overall effect is considerably more stylized and graphic. The horizon of the paintings is, also, markedly higher. Abraham de Verwer – a Haarlem-born artist often referred to as Abraham de Verwer van Burghstrate – made his name in the early seventeenth century as a cabinet-maker as well as a painter of landscapes and marines. By 1607, he was living in Amsterdam, married to a woman named Barbara Sillevoorts which has led to the conclusion that he was probably born in around 1585. De Verwer was first recorded as working as a painter in Amsterdam in 1617, and in the 1620s, was commissioned by the Amsterdam Admiralty to depict a scene from the Battle of Gibraltar (1607). By 1639. However de Verwer had left the city to work in Antwerp and later Paris. Drawings produced by the artist at this time support the idea that he travelled widely in France. In the 1640s, he returned to Amsterdam, where he remained until his death in 1650. He was the master of the marine painter Hendrick Dubbels. The artist has signed this painting 'Verwer' on the Dutch flag flying from the foremast of the ship on the left.
Date made circa 1625

Artist/Maker Verwer, Abraham de
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Palmer Collection. Acquired with the assistance of H.M. Treasury, the Caird Fund, the Art Fund, the Pilgrim Trust and the Society for Nautical Research Macpherson Fund.
Materials oil on copper panel
Measurements Painting: 127 mm x 254 mm; Frame: 230 mm x 352 mm x 40 mm
  • A Dutch and an English Ship off a Harbour (BHC0732)
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