Fine art, Oil paintings, A Sea of Symbols, Maritime Art Greenwich

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A Fishing Boat off a Rocky Coast in a Storm with a Wreck

Fine art

Object connections:

Collection Fine art, Oil paintings, A Sea of Symbols, Maritime Art Greenwich
ExhibitionsTurmoil and Tranquillity
Gallery locationNot on display

Object details:

Object ID BHC0837
Description This interpretation of ships heading for destruction on the rocks shows a continuous narrative. In this painting, Bellevois illustrates a broad-bottomed fishing boat filled with people, travelling towards a cluster of large, rough-hewn rocks. The danger of this shoreline is made apparent by the small ship, in the centre right, sinking by the stern. In the foreground, another ship has succumbed to this peril recently: detritus floats in the sea and survivors are gripping onto its masts which are still visible above the water. On the right, in the foreground, several survivors have reached the relative safety of the land. Behind them rocks rise up acting as a reminder of the treacherous coast which threatens the vessels in the painting. To the right, on the coastline, a tower stands out as a symbol of security in marked contrast to the ship foundering below. Throughout his career, Bellevois expressed a steady interest in the subject of shipwrecks, often reworking the image of ships in high winds, charging towards steep, ominous cliffs. This painting is preceded by what may be a preparatory oil sketch, also, in the Museum’s collection. Although, the preparatory sketch is more muted and lacks two of the three vessels in the finished result, it anticipates this more developed version. In both sketch and finished painting, the composition carefully augments the potency of the wind. The ship’s mast, blown diagonally across the picture surface, finds its visual echo in the dark grey clouds in the sky. Moreover the clouds extend upwards into the air and reiterate the shape of the steep cliffs on the right. The painting has been signed by the artist. Since Bellevois rarely – if ever – signed or dated his works, there is some difficulty in dating this picture. The artist’s 'Storm off a Rocky Coast' in Brunswick, which is signed and dated 1664, closely resembles the present painting. Significantly, the Brunswick painting employs the same motif of the wide fishing boat tilting vulnerably towards cliffs. Based on its obvious comparison with this dated work, one can assume that the Greenwich painting was, also, produced around the same time. The image of a vessel hurtling towards a menacing, rocky shore became a popular trope in the seventeenth century but had its origins in the emblem literature of the sixteenth century. Depictions of shipwrecks became allegorical images which obliquely made reference to a Christian message. In such pictures, where figures cling desperately to the ship and its sinking masts for survival, it seems clear that the real protagonist is the wind; invisible, elusive and only comprehended through its devastating effects. The overwhelming potency of the wind may be read as symbolum irae Dei, a metaphor for the wrath of God. In a poem entitled 'The Day’s Work', Constantijn Huygens reiterated the idea that God’s divine control over the elements meant that He alone had the power to grant salvation: ‘Sweet God, purify this season, Drive off weather of disgrace …’ Accordingly, the presence of the small fortified tower or castle on the stone platform protruding from the rocks, suggests that salvation is a possible – if unlikely – outcome. The motif of the castle was espoused by Bellevois in other works, including 'Storm off a Rocky Coast', in the Herzog- Anton-Ulrich Museum, Brunswick. It was, also, employed to similar effect by the artist’s contemporaries, including Jan Peeters (BHC0842). In 1721, Houbraken wrote that Bellevois had been ‘an accomplished painter of marines and lake views’. Bellevois was probably born in Rotterdam in around 1621. He was married to Cornelia Uithoeks, a local painter’s daughter, in 1643 or 1649: she died in 1652. In 1655, an inventory chronicling Bellevois’ personal property included ‘twalef groeb ebbeties van de Vlieger’ (‘twelve green ebonies by de Vlieger’), paintings presumably set within green ebony frames. Indeed, de Vlieger’s influence is strongly felt in many of Bellevois’ works which were commended for their rendering of still, placid waters. Although many of his known works are shipwrecks. By 1656, Bellevois had travelled to Gouda, where he married for a second time. Ultimately, he returned to his native Rotterdam and died there in 1676. The nineteenth century commentator, Christiaan Kramm, applauded the delicate silvery tone which governs the majority of Bellevois’ works as well as the artist’s accurate portrayal of ships and seaports.
Date made circa 1664-65

Artist/Maker Bellevois, Jacob Adriaensz
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 canvas
Measurements Painting: 825 x 1219 mm; Frame: 1009 mm x 1401 mm x 90 mm
  • A Fishing Boat off a Rocky Coast in a Storm with a Wreck (BHC0837)
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