The Society for Nautical Research helps to purchase important works of art for the National Maritime Museum. In the interwar years many private art collections were in danger of being sold abroad. Among them was the collection of over 11,000 maritime prints, drawings and paintings of the noted yachtsman and collector Arthur Macpherson. In 1927 the society launched a public appeal to raise the funds to acquire his collection. With the huge generosity of Sir James Caird the collection was purchased and formed one of the founding collections of the National Maritime Museum.
Macpherson had an encyclopedic attitude to art collecting and aimed to document every aspect of maritime history through pictures. The early Netherlandish paintings are particularly fine, including a late sixteenth-century allegory of the Ship of State and Abraham Storck’s ‘Shipping off Amsterdam’.
The surplus of the public appeal was used to create the Macpherson Collection Endowment Fund which continues to be used to assist the purchase of additional works of art for the museum. Among the works purchased are a large number of paintings, prints and drawings by the noted marine artist W. L. Wyllie and an album of drawings by Gabriel Bray from a voyage to Africa in 1775.
The following works of art are taken from the many hundreds acquired for the nation by the society. A new work will be published monthly.
Featured Piece: A Fishing Boat in Rough Sea off a Rocky Shore (1620s)
This vibrant depiction of a two-masted vessel in a rough sea, shows the craft caught in a narrow channel between rocks and a towering crag. Other shipping can be seen to the left and land to the right in the distance. A group of figures huddle together around a fire and two more stand on the cliff gesturing at the vessel. Cliffs tower above them, exaggerated in their size, perhaps a metaphor of humanity’s struggle against the power of nature.
The painting is signed ‘IP’ on the rocks at the lower left, for Julius Porcellis. The Society has helped to purchase other works by Julius Porcellis for the collections of the National Maritime Museum, including ‘Mussel Fishing’ and ‘Mussel Fishing II’. Although Julius’s father, Jan Porcellis, also an artist, was widely considered to be the superior painter, the two are often indistinguishable. Julius Porcellis was born in Rotterdam in 1609 and died in Leiden in 1654. Little is known about his life.
The Society has published a number of articles on Dutch shipping and in particular on Dutch shipping and shipwrecks, including from 2017 The Wreck of the Dutch East India Company Ship Haarlem in Table Bay, 1647, and the Establishment of the ‘Tavern of the Seas’:
On Sunday 25 March 1647, shortly after five o’clock in the afternoon, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) ship Nieuw Haarlem or Haarlem was wrecked in Table Bay, off the coast of South Africa. The events that followed had far-reaching consequences for the history of South Africa. Fifty-eight of the crew were repatriated by accompanying ships soon after the incident, but 62 men were left behind to try and salvage as much of the cargo as possible. They found refuge in a makeshift camp, where they lived for about one year. During their stay, the men from Haarlem came into contact with indigenous people. Although initially marked by apprehension and reservation, these contacts improved after some time. This led to regular bartering, visits to each other’s abodes, basic exchange of language and appreciation of each other’s cultures. Upon returning to the Netherlands, the men reported favourably of their experiences. As a result, VOC management decided to establish a much-needed stopover for their ships. This station, known as the ‘Tavern of the Seas’, later developed into the city of Cape Town. The wrecking of Haarlem can thus be regarded as the catalyst that created one of the roots of current multiracial and multicultural South African society.
For a general discussion of seafarers in the Netherlands in this period, Seamen’s Employment in the Netherlands c1600 – c1800 examines the employment of seamen of different ranks engaged in merchant shipping, whaling, fishing, East India shipping and the navy from 1600-1800 sailing from the Netherlands to destinations around the world, including the Baltic and the Indian Ocean. The changes in numbers of men recruited from different regions within the Netherlands and foreign recruits into each employment category are given over the time period under consideration with possible reasons for these changes.