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Abraham Willaerts 1603-1669
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Abraham Willaerts 1603-1669

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A Dutch Warship off a harbour firing a salute; a rowing boat approaching with a crowd cheering and waving

Oil painting on oak panel 18 x 25 inches contained in its black and gilt-edged oak frame

Signed with initials and dated 1640 on the stern of the ship, just above the waterline.

Provenance: Private collection South Africa until the present

Abraham Willaerts was born and died in Utrecht, the son and pupil of the marine painter Adam Willaerts, (1577-1664) whose style exactly mirrors his own (to the extent that their work is at times barely to be distinguished.) He was also taught by Jan van Bylert, the Netherlandish Caravaggist, but little trace of the latter’s influence is detectable in his work. On a visit to Paris he received some instruction from the French baroque painter Simon Vouet, though again no evidence of this appears in his later style. On balance, his technique is slightly more refined (as here) than that of his father, and the tonality more cool and restrained.

After leaving Paris, he entered into the service of Price Maurits in Holland, and was sent on an expedition to Angola, where he recorded the local populace and fauna. On his return to Europe he continued the successful marine-painting practice of his father and his younger brother Isaac (1620-1693).

The date of 1640 for the painting is significant in Dutch Naval History, as in that and the previous year they had considerable success against the Spanish fleet, firstly off Dover on 16th September 1639. The Spanish were conveying troops to Flanders in 67 ships when they were attacked with only 17 ships by the Dutch under the great Admirals Van Tromp and De Wit. All but 10 of the Spanish ships were sunk, driven ashore or chased across the Channel to England. Thence they were ordered to depart by King Charles, and greater carnage ensued. The complete victory was of immense importance for the Dutch nation, and was celebrated in verse, literature and medallic art:





Jacob Gerritsz. Loeff: medal issued at Middelburg to celebrate the destruction of the Spanish war-fleet, 16th September 1639. The inscription on the reverse translates as: The Spanish fleet of 67 ships after being attacked for three successive days by Admiral Tromp was forced to take refuge under the English forts, lay there blockaded for a month and subsequently, being ordered by King Charles I to leave, was destroyed.

It is reasonable to surmise that the scene of celebration in the present painting marks the return of a leading member of the Dutch fleet to port, where it is greeted by enthusiastic citizens and fires a salute.

By the end of the Battle of the Downs (as it was called) Spanish naval power was as thoroughly broken as it had been fifty years earlier in the destruction of the Spanish Armada.

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