Fine art, Oil paintings, Nature and National Waters, Maritime Art Greenwich

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Shipping Off a Rocky Coast

Fine art

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Object ID BHC0850
Description Three merchant vessels are shown amid choppy waves, close to the rugged coast. The largest ship, in the centre, is caught by a stark ray of light from the left which illuminates its stern. Equally visible are the sailors on board, rendered in tiny, imprecise specks of brightly coloured paint. The vessel is under reduced sail, with her main and fore yards partly lowered. Two small red flags are visible atop its masts. The central ship is flanked by a similar one in the middle distance, on the left, which also bears two red flags. On the right a smaller coastal craft pitches across the rough water. While, the exact setting is unknown, the scene looks distinctly Mediterranean especially the coastal landscape in the right background. In the left foreground, a host of thorny branches and rocks are rendered in dark brown, providing a glaring chromatic contrast with the sharp white peaks of the waves running alongside them. On the right, the inky blue sea gives way to paler water and flat, blanched cliffs. The sky, which is painted in broad, even brushstrokes, is dominated by swirling purple clouds. These are highly reminiscent of both early Flemish and Italian landscape paintings and equally anticipating the intense colour employed by the later Flemish artists such as Pieter Mulier the Younger (BHC0882). In keeping with Flemish tradition van den Velde employs an arrestingly wide range of colours, from the opaque lemon yellow of the cliffs, in the background, to the concentrated vibrant purple of the horizon on the far left. The emphasis on individual colours in the painting, as well as the marked contrast between light and dark, serve to create an overwhelmingly strong, graphic composition. The intimate scale and high finish of this painting identify it as a cabinet picture, in the tradition of the cabinet pieces painted on copper by Jan Brueghel the Elder and a number of other Antwerp artists (see BHC0711 and BHC0712). A typical cabinet piece was a small, jewel-like image executed on copper which would have originally formed part of a collector’s cabinet of pictures or may even have been integrated in a piece of ornate furniture. This kind of picture was extremely popular in the artist’s native Antwerp, where Flemish collectors exhibited their works in picture galleries or cabinets, rooms in which paintings covered the entire surface of the walls. Frans Francken II’s depiction of a collector’s ‘Art Room’, 1636, in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, shows this type of picture gallery. Paintings were tightly packed into a display that effectively hyperbolized their intense, glistening colours and created an overall effect of opulence. Although, van den Velde’s painting has been cautiously dated to a later date of around 1660, it is, nonetheless, very likely that this work was intended to be viewed within a similar context. Pieter van den Velde was born in Antwerp in 1634. Here, he established a modest reputation as a marine painter specializing in portrayals of turbulent seas and sea battles. Comparatively little is known about his life and work, although, he became a Master of the Antwerp Guild of St Luke in 1654. From around 1671, he sold paintings regularly through the Forchoudt art dealers and exported a number of works to Vienna. Debate continues as to Pieter van den Velde’s relationship to the prominent Dutch van de Velde family of marine artists and, while there is no certainty about his connection to the van de Veldes, he is widely believed to have been a distant relative. He died in Antwerp c. 1714. The painting is signed 'PVV'.
Date made circa 1660s

Artist/Maker Velde, Pieter van den
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 Frame: 200 mm x 243 mm x 50 mm;Overall: .4 kg;Painting: 96 mm x 140 mm
  • Shipping Off a Rocky Coast (BHC0850)
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