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A Dutch settlement in India viewed from the land

Fine art

Object details:

Object ID BHC1934
Description This painting, which is one of a pair, shows a busy Dutch East Indies factory port at the height of its success in the mid-seventeenth century. We, the viewers, look along the shoreline to the town beyond. The terrain represented is flat and dry, intersected by a waterway which acts as a répoussoir, leading the viewer’s gaze towards the tableau of buildings in the background. These buildings are uniformly pale and even. The occasional turret or spire can be seen reaching into the cloudless sky. In the foreground, travelling diagonally across the picture plane, an envoy is shown being conveyed in a covered cart which is drawn by buffalos and led by men on horseback as well as on foot. On the far left, amid the trees, there is a small temple and, in the right foreground, two men ride on elephants. This grandiose composition can scarcely be called a marine painting. Similar to its pendant (BHC1933) it has been traditionally identified as Surat viewed from the land. However the lack of clearly congruent features and other evidence shows that this is unlikely. It is more probably a representation of Ahmadabad which was 200 kilometres to the north of Surat. The settlement of Ahmadabad, situated on the banks of the River Sabarmati, was the capital of Gujarat and a thriving centre for trade in the seventeenth century. The elements of this grisaille panel are derived from a range of other visual sources. Therefore it is a composite image. Unmistakably the illustrations which accompany Philippus Baldaeus’s text, 'Beschrijving der Oost-Indische Kusten Malabar en Choromandel, Der zelver aangrezende Ryken en het machtige Eyland, Ceylon', have been variously employed. The text, which describes Malabar, Coromandel and Sri Lanka, was published in Amsterdam in 1672. Baldaeus’s 'View of Amadabath' is almost identical. Both images show very similar townscapes, a large, sweeping river, washerwomen beating clothes on the riverbank and clothes hanging outside to dry in the intense heat. Another possible source that Backhuysen may have employed is an illustrated 'View of Masulipatam' from Baldaeus’ account of the East Indies. This illustration shows a man holding a parasol and sitting astride an Indian elephant. This same motif, copied almost identically, reappears on the far right of the present picture and serves to heighten the sense of exoticism in the image. As do the proliferation of figures in oriental dress and the dark-skinned, bare-chested men, who appear throughout the scene. Dutch merchants had established themselves with monopoly powers in the East Indies as well as trading stations on the mainland of India and Ceylon. There was considerable hostility between the Dutch and English companies. The artist has endeavoured to capture the admixture of familiar ships in exotic surroundings and the resulting image is particularly evocative. Initially Ludolf Backhuysen trained as a calligrapher in his native Germany before moving to Amsterdam. There he was inspired by the grisaille drawings of van de Velde the Elder who, at that time, was famed for his grisailles and pen paintings (BHC0277). Backhuysen's move to the city facilitated a profitable association with Willem van de Velde the Elder. Later, in the studios of van Everdingen and Dubbels, he was introduced to marine painting in oils. He was a contemporary of van de Velde the Younger and shared with him a concern for painting ships with accuracy and understanding. See BHC1933. Backhuysen is known to have produced few grisailles. Therefore we can assume that these two works, which depict Dutch colonies in India, are extremely rare within his oeuvre. This painting was formerly in the nineteenth century Dutch Royal collection of William II, the former Prince of Orange, who fought with Wellington at Waterloo.
Date made 1670s

Artist/Maker Backhuysen, Ludolf
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 660 mm x 1676 mm; Frame: 850 mm x 1886 mm x 85 mm
  • A Dutch settlement in India viewed from the land (BHC1934)
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