à bout de souffle

Appearance of the Elder van de Velde

Page Fifteen


From a Jack to a King

7 x 6. BHC 3067. NMM

The National Maritime Museum has the following to say about the painting shown above, as large as (actually larger than) life, and twice as natural: "This small portrait on panel was acquired in 1933 as 'Portrait of the artist' by Willem van de Velde the Elder. Despite the initials 'WVV' on the portfolio the sitter does not resemble van de Velde as he appears in the engraving by Gerard Sibelius after the portrait by Kneller in the collection of Sir Edward Walpole. From the dress it is possible to date the portrait to around 1670, rather than 1650, as previously thought. Because of the background of sea and shipping it is possible that the sitter is another marine artist, perhaps born around 1630."

If someone had wanted to flabber my gast, they could not have succeeded better than by making the above remarks. These two portraits are so blindingly obviously of the same man, that only a blind person could deny it.

Assume that the oil is indeed a self-portrait. Accept, then, that we do not see ourselves as others see us. Accept, also, that these two images were created at least ten, perhaps fifteen, perhaps eighteen, years apart.

To the right are two portraits of the same man, by different artists. This man, rather remarkably, happens to be the man who owned the portrait by Kneller of Old van de Velde, which has since disappeared. Evidently, a portrait-painter was no photographer.

Is there really any reason for thinking the two faces below are not meant for the same man? The shape of the face, the jaw-line, the cheekbones, the creases in the cheeks, the nose and nostrils, the pencil-thin Ronald Colman moustache, and even the shape of the mouth and lips, seem to me good matches. It's the look in the eyes, and the haughty and arrogant expression, that alter the effect of the later portrait.

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In a letter dated 20 July 1674, written by Pieter Blaeu, son of the publisher Johannes Blaeu, the Elder van de Velde is quoted as saying that he "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." Blaeu adds that "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."

Pieter Blaeu was used to seeing Old van de Velde as the man on the left, and was staggered by his metamorphosis into Court Painter, by Appointment, to Charles II, King of England, and to James, Duke of York and Lord High Admiral of the English Fleet. In the space of a very few years, say five, Old van de Velde had been transformed from his self-image as a genial and kindly-looking Dutch Republican tarpaulin, skilled navigator and super-skilled ship draughtsman, into a most sour and purse-lipped courtier at a committedly Crypto-Catholic Royal Court, perhaps revealing his inner self as a turncoat and compulsive fornicator. He appears to have lengthened his nose as well, the better to look down it at the common herd.

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Philip Durell

Bainbrigg Buckeridge fills us in on Old van de Velde, 1706
Kneller paints James in 1684; soon afterwards he or his staff do the same for Willem

What we really want to know about the van de Veldes is this:

a) their association with the Stuarts, and apparent employment by them perhaps from as early as 1660;
b) how exactly did the Elder become an eye-witness of the burning of Schelling in 1666?
c) the precise reasons for their wholesale physical emigration to England, circa 1671-72;
d) the reasons why they appear to have been rejected by William III in England circa 1690;
e) the nature of the studio of the Younger van de Velde after the death of the Elder in 1693.
f) what was the Younger doing in Italy in 1694?

According to Wikipedia, the Elder and the Younger van de Velde accompanied the Dutch troops advancing to the rescue of Schelling in 1666. Can this be true? Their major paintings of the conflagration seem to have ended up in England, however, although some do seem to be in Holland. It is curious that Buckeridge so openly retails a different story about the event, especially since the Younger was still alive in 1706.

Note: Dutch Captain: Laurens van Heemskerck
Laurens van Heemskerck had served the Admiralty of the Maze (Rotterdam) prior to defecting to the English. Reportedly, he might have been shot if he had not defected. In 1659, he had commanded the Klein Hollandia (48 guns) in De Ruyter's fleet that was sent to the Baltic. He fought at the Battle of Lowestoft, where he commanded the Rotterdam ship Vrede (40 guns). He was assigned to Cornelis Eversen the Elder's squadron. He was court-martialled after the battle for insubordination and eventually fled the country. In July 1666, he finally defected to the English, taking with him a list of ships lost at the Four Days Battle. He eventually was knighted by King Charles II. After the St. James's Day Battle on 25 July 1666, he guided Sir Robert Holmes in the attack on Terschelling. He had one command in the English service. In 1668, he was appointed captain of the Nonsuch. Sources:

1. W. L. Clowes, The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present, Vol.II, 1898.
2. Frank Fox, A Distant Storm: the Four Days' Battle of 1666, 1996.
3. G. L. Grove, Journalen van de Admiralen Van Wassenaer-Obdam en De Ruyter, 1907.
4. J.R. Tanner, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Naval Manuscripts in the Pepysian Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge, Vol.I, 1903.

the bonfire

"Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will ignore you."

William Blake, 1790-3

"A real person in touch with real things inspires terror."

Marshall McLuhan, June 22 1951

"One gets more real truth out of one avowed partisan than out of a dozen of your sham impartialists
----- simpering honesty as they suppress documents."

Robert Louis Stevenson, letter to Mrs Churchill Babington, Summer 1871

"Art history, as you probably know, is a nasty, vicious profession"

Iain Pears, The Raphael Affair, 1990, Chap 2

"There is none also that had not his beginning, his progress, and his end; that is to say, three manners."

Art of Painting, by Roger de Piles, 1706.

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