This characteristic drawing by Willem van de Velde the younger was made shortly after he had moved permanently to London with his father, Willem van de Velde the elder, in the winter of 1672. During the first and second Anglo-Dutch wars the van de Veldes had worked under contract for the Dutch state; the Elder observed and sketched the movements and battles of the Dutch navy from a galliot – or small boat - under orders to go wherever he needed in order to make drawings. It is unclear whether the van de Veldes’ move was motivated by personal considerations or by a proclamation from Charles II in 1672 inviting Dutch citizens to settle in England. Working from a studio in the Queen’s House at Greenwich, they produced a series of depictions of the battles of the third Anglo-Dutch war, royal visits to the fleet, ship launches, and more general marine subjects for the court, wealthy merchants, and naval patrons. The present, large sheet depicts a view of the starboard stern of Princess, a fourth-rate British ship of 44 guns. Delicately handled in pen, ink and wash, this drawing is unusual for the level of detail van de Velde records; unlike most ship portraits, he has shown the decks crowded with men, capturing the energy and activity of a man-of-war at the height of the third Anglo-Dutch war.
Ship portraits of this type form a central part of the drawn work of the van de Veldes. The van de Veldes seem to have built up an archive of accurate depictions of naval ships as a commercial strategy. When a successful naval action occurred, they could use their drawings to produce a faithful depiction of the event. Princess was built at Lydney in Gloucestershire in 1660 and saw action in seven of the main battles of the second and third Anglo-Dutch wars including the first and second Battle of Schooneveld and the Battle of Texel all in 1673. Another drawing of Princess by Willem van de Velde the younger, viewed from slightly before the starboard beam and dated 1673 survives in the National Maritime Museum. In the present sheet van de Velde carefully records the elaborately decorated stern emblazoned with the Royal arms, as well as the structure and architecture of the ship, but the most engaging aspect of the sheet is the multitude of figures depicted on the deck. The Van de Veldes’ workshop had an enormous and enduring impact on maritime art during the eighteenth century. As Richard Johns has noted: ‘once in England, the Van de Veldes became part of a cosmopolitan circle of Continental artists that included the famed Dutch portrait specialist Peter Lely and the Italian decorative history painter Antonio Verrio.’ Following the dispersal of their studio, Van de Velde’s drawings were owned and copied by succeeding generations of British artists. J.M.W. Turner, who declared that a 1720s print after Van de Velde junior 'made me a painter,' made shipping studies directly influenced by Van de Velde drawings. In a mark of the continued currency of their drawings, William Baillie reproduced several in facsimile in the 1760s and 1770s, the first English drawings to receive such treatment.
- M. S. Robinson, Van de Velde Drawings...in the National Maritime Museum.., vol. I, Cambridge, 1958, pp. 84, 168, no. 441, reproduced pl. 100.
- Richard Johns, ‘After Van de Velde’, in ed. Eleanor Hughes, Spreading Canvas: Eighteenth-Century British Maritime Painting, exh. cat. New Haven (Yale Center for British Art), 2016, p.20.