I think I have already mentioned, on more than one occasion, that of all the different eras in art, my favourite is seventeenth century Dutch and Flemish art with some of my favourite artists, Jan Steen, Albert Cuyp, Jacob van Ruisdael and Paulus Potter all being born in the 1620’s. Today, it gives me great pleasure in presenting another talented painter of that time. The artist I am featuring in this blog was once described as a wunderkind and the Mozart of the art world, for he, like the great composer, was a young genius. Sadly, also like Mozart, he died young, at the age of thirty-five. Today I am looking at the life and art of Adriaen van de Velde, whose landscapes are looked upon as being the very best that the Dutch Golden Age produced. I also want to look at his family and other artists who influenced him.
Adriaen van de Velde was born in Amsterdam in November 1636. He came from an artistic family with both his father, Willem van de Velde the Elder, and Adriaen’s elder brother, Willem van de Velde the Younger, being marine painters. Adriaen’s father’s interest in marine painting probably stemmed from the fact that his father, Adriaen’s Flemish-born grandfather, Willemsz van de Velde, was a bargemaster and merchant plying his trade in inland shipping. His grandfather and his family were Calvinists and when Spain, which was staunch Catholic, took control of Flanders they were forced to move to the Protestant north, to Leiden sometime in the 1580’s. Adriaen’s father, Willem van der Velde the Elder, was born in Leiden in 1611. In 1631 he married Judith van Leeuwen and she went on to give him three children, Magdalena who was born in 1632, Willem in 1633 and finally Adriaen in 1636.
Willem van der Velde the Elder earliest drawings date back to the 1630’s and 1640’s and they would often feature individual ships of the Dutch fleet. His art also depicted many naval battles, which he had been commissioned to paint by the Dutch admiralty. One trip he made was in July 1653 was during the Battle of Scheveningen, which was the final naval battle of the First Anglo-Dutch War between the fleets of the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces. In 1658 Van de Velde accompanied the Dutch navy to Copenhagen when Admiral Jacob van Wassenaer defended the Danes’ right of way into the Baltic against Charles X’s Swedish forces; the drawings that Van de Velde produced of this battle earned him the praise of the Danish king.
His representation of major naval battles continued with the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1665. One of his largest commissions, from Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, was to record the Four Days’ Battle in 1666.
The twenty-four drawings that survive represent moments from the battle itself as well as the individual vessels that gathered around De Ruyter’s flagship. De Ruyter employed the artist again during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, to record the Battle of Solebay on June 7, 1672.and sketch battle scenes first hand and then later, in the comfort of his studio, fashion very detailed pen paintings. His expertise with pen paintings had him referred to as a ship draughtsman or artist and ship draughtsman rather than a painter.
Adriaen’s brother Willem, who was born in Leiden was interested in carrying on the marine painting tradition of his father and was trained by his father and later by Simon de Vlieger, a Dutch designer, draughtsman, and painter, who was most famous for his marine paintings.
Willem and his father remained in Amsterdam until 1672, the year Adriaen died, and then, as a consequence of the economic collapse brought about by the French invasion they were forced to move to England to seek out a living from their artworks. Two years later, in 1674, he and his father entered the service of Charles II, and Willem the Younger had the use of a studio in the Queen’s House at Greenwich, before moving to Westminster in 1691.
Adriaen van de Velde, although initially taught by his father, wanted to paint something different and decided to concentrate on landscape art and some believe, for that reason, it was arranged that he went to study at the studio of Jan Jansz Wijnants.
Wijnants was an Italianate landscape painter who took his inspiration from the art of the Dutch painters who had travelled to Italy and consciously adopted the style of landscape painting that they found there. They then incorporated Italian models and motifs into their own works. However, this is disputed by many as Wijnants was only five years older than Adriaen and the two were unlikely to be master and pupil. What is agreed is that the two collaborated on some works.
One artist of that era who was a great influence on Adriaen was Paulus Potter who was eleven years his senior. Paulus Potter was a Dutch painter who specialized in animals within landscapes, usually with a low vantage point. He lived in Amsterdam from 1852 to 1854 which would be about the time when sixteen-year old Adriaen would be looking for a tutor and a studio to work in. Many believe Potter could have taken Adriaen under his wing and tutored him.
Adriaen van de Velde besides being a talented landscape painter was also an accomplished draughtsman. He was actively involved in the practice of staffage. So what is staffage? Staffage is when an artist adds human or animal figures as subordinate elements to a landscape painting in order to give the painting a livelier appearance. Staffage was commonly used by 16th- and 17th-century landscape painters, who would often include religious and mythological scenes in their works. Staffage was frequently painted into a picture, not by the landscapist, but by another artist and this where Adriaen came into his element for he was extremely talented when it came to drawing animals and humans and added figures and animals into paintings by Meindert Hobbema, Jacob van Ruisdael, Willem Verboom and other contemporary artists.
Adriaen van de Velde was one of only a few seventeenth century landscape artists whose surviving graphic collection of works include figure studies. Many of his figure studies and sketches, which were later used in his paintings, still exist. Adriaen completed many female nude studies and was always interested in posture and how it affected the female form. A nude female sketch of his can be found in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford entitled Kneeling Female Nude.
It is thought that this sketch could have been a preliminary sketch he used when painting The Annunciation to the Virgin which he completed in 1667 and which now hangs in the Rijksmuseum.
Adriaen completed a work which highlights his ability to depict the female form. It is entitled Vertumnus and Pomona and was completed in 1670. Vertumnus and Pomona is a story of seduction and deception from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the two featured in many 17th century Dutch paintings. Vertumnus, the Roman god of seasons and change, assumed multiple guises as he attempted to woo the recalcitrant wood nymph Pomona.
Besides his wonderful landscapes Adriaen completed many religious works and his “stand out” painting would probably be one he completed in 1663 entitled The Migration of Jacob. The depiction is based on the story in the Old Testament (Genesis XXXI, 17-18):
“…Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan…”
Jacob left Paddan Aram in Northwest Mesopotamia, fleeing from his father -in-law, Laban whom he had worked for, for more than twenty years. The bible story continued:
“…When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods. Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away. So he fled with all he had, crossed the Euphrates River, and headed for the hill country of Gilead…”
In the painting, we see a large procession meandering through the countryside. It is headed by Jacob who with his wives, possessions and cattle are on a journey to reach his father, Isaac, who lived in Canaan. Jacob, wearing the white turban sits astride the bay horse and we see him talking to his favourite wife, Rachel. She is riding the white horse whilst she breast-feeds her child, Joseph. The figures in the painting are in the shadows whilst the two main protagonists and those who are herding the sheep, are bathed in sunlight. If one did not know the story one would believe it is a peaceful procession slowly crossing the landscape but Adriaen has add dark threatening clouds to give the idea that there is an urgency to this “convoy” and that not all is well. Laban, after three days, realised that his daughter and son-in-law have left taking with them many of his possessions and gives chase. What happened next ? I will leave you to consult the Old Testament book of Genesis to find out !!
Another religious work by the artist was Agony in the Garden. This picture belongs to the principal group of large-scale religious works by him which he completed in the 1660s for the secret Catholic places of worship in and around Amsterdam. These commissions for religious works by the Catholic Church followed on from his marriage in 1657 to a Catholic lady, Maria Pietersz Ouderkerck, at which time he also converted to Catholicism.
In my next look at the works of Adriaen van de Velde I will be concentrating on what he was best known for – his exquisite landscapes.