In the pages under this heading some minor revision of the common impression of the origins of English marine painting will be marshalled, mustered and discharged. Many errors will be corrected, but, inevitably, new ones will wriggle in. The pious hope is that, in time, a balanced account will be achieved.
Traditionally there have been three significant marine painters of the van de Velde name active in England between 1672 and about 1725: William the Elder (1611-1693), his son William the Younger (1633-1707), and Cornelius (recently discovered to have been baptised in Holland, May 1674, date of death also recently discovered to have been 1714), almost certainly the son of the second William, who is widely acknowledged to be the most prominent member of the family. In speaking of "The Van de Veldes" most writers, and especially non-marine art-historians, would until fairly recently only have been referring to the first two Williams. The styles of all the English marine artists of the eighteenth century were indubitably not formed entirely on these two painters. Nor can I believe that Isaac Sailmaker, and certainly not Peter Monamy, were ever employed in their "shop". To think this is to have no understanding of the political and social divisions in English life under the Stuart kings, and virtually no appreciation of the basic art styles of these two painters. I cannot speak of the employment of Jacob Knyff, but since he arrived in England in 1672 and died in 1681 he may possibly have been associated with the Elder van de Velde for a short period, say 1673-74. There is a useful introduction to the style of Knyff on pages 38-50 in Cockett's Early Sea Painters, 1995, a rather better guide than his Peter Monamy, 2000. Knyff's personal manner perhaps shows some influence of the van de Veldes. See here.
The employment of van der Hagen is a fair possibility, if only by his confidently presumed son-in-law Cornelius, after the death of the Younger William in 1707. The styles of the first two van de Veldes were only one of the many influences contributing to the formation of the English School of marine art, and there has been a prolonged over-emphasis of their perceived domination. This derives almost entirely from a fundamental misunderstanding of Monamy's background and training, his time and place of birth, and ignorance of the first forty years of his life, which includes 25 years of his life as a painter.
The Mirror of Empire survey of Dutch marine art, which accompanied an exhibition in the USA 1990-91, contains biographical notes on the two William van de Veldes. "The William van de Veldes chose to move to England, either at the end of 1672 or early the following year. ..... In the years before his move to England, the Elder cultivated distinguished patrons including Pieter Blaeu, the son of the great publisher Johannes Blaeu, and Cardinal Leopold de Medici ..... ". In 1674, the Elder fetched his wife from Amsterdam and settled permanently in London. He received £100 annually from Charles II, and was promised another £50 per annum from the Duke of York. His son William the Younger was then aged 41, and he also received £100 a year from Charles II. The Younger married for the second time in 1666, and reportedly had six children, three being sons named Willem, Cornelis and Peter. All three are said to have become painters. Peter is a mere shadow, but there are faint indications that the third Willem was active in the firm (see Cordingly above). For the moment only Cornelis concerns us. As mentioned above, he was born in Holland, and baptised in May 1674.
In London the Younger's themes shifted "to vivid representations of recent glorious naval events ..... because his two royal patrons commissioned such subjects largely to the exclusion of nonhistorical maritime themes." (Mirror of Empire). In a letter dated 20 July 1674, Pieter Blaeu states that the Elder "did not know whether the English were interested in his pictures or in other fine things, he had certainly done very little and had never done anything for anybody other than His Majesty and for the Duke of York, and that kept him totally occupied. I should scarcely have believed all these things if he had not been dressed in very fine clothing and moreover he was wearing a very well-made wig. Merely by looking at him one could see that he was short of nothing." (Cordingly, p.14).
The picture of the van de Velde entourage that formed in 1673 is as follows. The party consisted of the Elder and his wife, the Younger and his wife, and their six children. According to Horace Walpole, there was also an elder Cornelius, a brother of the elder William. Charles II lodged them in the Queen's House at Greenwich, and one assumes he provided them with every artistic facility, ie paints, brushes, canvas, equipment, travel and so forth, as well as, perhaps, servants and sustenance. Between them they would have had in addition, at today's prices, very approximately £23,500 a year tax-free pocket money, for wigs and other finery. Since they were exclusively retained by the king and his brother, the impression is of a self-contained Dutch community, hermetically sealed from the wider world of English society. Reputedly, the Elder never learnt a word of English. After they had been in London for a few years they would have been gradually commissioned to undertake work for a few members of the topmost aristocracy, contributing, for instance, to the decoration of Ham House. This situation would have lasted for about 15 years, until James II fled the field, to be replaced by William III in 1689.
In Willem van de Velde de Jonge, 1992, Margarita Russell notes, p.21, that "according to tradition" the Younger's three sons, Willem, Cornelis and Pieter, as well as one of his daughters, Sara, worked in his studio. She also mounts a stout defence of the van de Veldes' perceived apostasy. It is worth inserting some of Walpole's comments here. "It was not much to his (The Elder's) honour that he conducted the English fleet, as is said, to burn Shelling. ..... it was pushing his gratitude (to Charles II) too far to serve the king against his own country. ..... William Vandevelde, the son, was the greatest man that has appeared in this branch of painting: the palm is not less disputed with Raphael for history, than with Vandevelde for sea-pieces: Annibal Caracci and Mr Scott (!!! Did Horace have a thing about Scott? Over the top.) have not surpassed those chieftains. ..... the best chosen collection of these masters is in a chamber at Mr Skinner's in Clifford-street, Burlington-gardens, assembled at great prices by Mr Walker. .... William the Older had a brother named Cornelius, who like him painted shipping in black and white, was employed by King Charles, and had a salary. The younger William left a son, a painter too of the same style, and who made good copies from his father's works, but was otherwise no considerable performer. He went to Holland and died there. He had a sister who .... had portraits of her grandfather and father by Sir Godfrey Kneller, of her brother by Wissing, and of her great uncle Cornelius." These details ring true, almost as if Walpole had seen the portraits himself. But can he be relied on?
Assume, for the sake of argument, that the Elder van de Velde really was embroiled in conducting the English fleet to the destruction of his countrymen. The burning of Schelling, otherwise Westerschelling, is usually known as Sir Robert Holmes, his bonfire, and it took place on 9th August 1666, ie a full six years before the van de Veldes moved to England. Any gratitude due would appear to be from Charles II to van de Velde, and not vice versa. In The Rupert & Monck Letter Book, p.127, edited by Powell and Timings, there is mention of a "Capt. Lauris Van Heemskirck a disobliged native of that Country (Holland)" who "hath with very good fidelity and judgement discharged his part as a guide to us, without whom we could hardly have this attempted, and therefore we heartily recommend him, and his wife and children who are at Dover, to your Majs. special care and favour". Any confusion of Lauris van Heemskirck with Willem van de Velde would seem perfectly extraordinary. Still, who knows. It's possible van Heemskirck had some connection with van de Velde, and drew Charles II's attention to the painter. If Andrew Marvell could be part of a fifth column in the Dutch interest in London, it's not impossible that van de Velde could have been part of a fifth column in the Catholic interest in Holland. Whatever the truth, Walpole's reported rumour remains very curious.
The third edition of The Art of Painting, translated from the French of M.de Piles, has added to it An Essay towards an English School, the "greatest part" of which was written by "the late B.Buckeridge Esq." Buckeridge has this to say "William Vandervelde, Commonly called the Old, was an extraordinary ship-Painter of Amsterdam. Coming over to England, he was much employed by King Charles II. for whom he painted several of the sea-fights between the Dutch and English. He also understood navigation admirably well, and is said to have conducted the English fleet to the burning of Schelling." Buckeridge also remarks that his "considerable salary ..... was afterwards continued to his son, now living, 1706." This usefully puts a precise date to the comment. Since Buckeridge, on the evidence of the rest of his text (and translation of de Piles), could accurately be described as an extreme xenophobe, and seems to have imagined that the burning of Schelling took place after the arrival of van de Velde, perhaps he was merely gleefully repeating a malicious slander, possibly put about by some embittered rival to the van de Veldes. Now, who could that have been?
The Rev. James Dallaway discusses the matter in his edition of Walpole, and the following remarks are taken from the 1876 edition, revised, with additional notes by Ralph N.Wornum. "The Editor has not found any authority for this assertion, Vandevelde was in the battle between the Duke of York and Admiral Opdam; and in another which continued for three days, between Admiral Monk and De Ruyter, sailing in a boat between the two fleets, in order to observe every motion. These naval engagements took place in 1665 and '66, and Vandevelde was employed to delineate them by the States of Holland. He did not arrive in England before the year 1675. Admiral Holmes, in August 1666, landed on the island of Schelling, and burned the town of Bundairs, which is upon it. Vandevelde stands acquitted of this disgraceful charge. Many of the elder Vandevelde's works, which were painted for the Duke of Lauderdale, are still in the collection at Ham-house. D[allaway]."
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