An English Ship in Action with Barbary Corsairs | Willem van de Velde the Younger | 1680
An action between an English two-decker and a Barbary two-decker, showing three small ships and four galleys. Although naval historians are unable to relate the action to a specific event, the painting significantly identifies the danger to English ships from such pirates during the 1660s and 70s and was initially thought to show the 'Kingfisher' in action in 1681. In the left foreground is an English two-decker, in starboard-bow view, with a light breeze from the port bow, firing guns on both sides. She flies a Union jack and a red ensign, and a pendant with the cross of St George at the main. In the middle-distance a little to the right is a Barbary two-decker, viewed from the port bow, on fire amidships and flying a dark flag at the main. Black smoke from the burning Barbary ship covers most of the left half of the painting. In the right foreground there is a galley sinking with only the forepart and the foremast showing, and a broad red pendant flying at the masthead. A galley or possibly some other lateen-rigged vessel is visible behind this, showing only the after part in starboard quarter view, including the after mast and its lateen sail. On the right the masts of one or two ships can be seen above the smoke.
The artist was the younger son of Willem van de Velde the Elder. Born in Leiden, he studied under Simon de Vlieger in Weesp and in 1652 moved back to Amsterdam. There he worked in his father's studio and developed the skill of carefully drawing and painting ships in tranquil settings. He changed his subject matter, however, when he came with his father to England in 1672, by working on views of royal yachts, men-of-war and on storm scenes. From 1672 the depiction of sea battles from the English side became a priority but unlike his father's they were not usually eyewitness accounts. However, from early 1674 both the van de Veldes were expressly patronized by Charles II for this purpose, the father to draw sea fights and the son - who was by far the more more accomplished painter - 'for putting the said Draughts into Colours'. After his father's death in 1693 he was officially engaged to be present at and record significant maritime events. He continued to run a substantial and influential studio until his own death and with his father, especially as a painter, he is regarded as founder of the English school of marine painting.
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