Maritime Art

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: An Action of the Four Days’ Battle, 1-4 June 1666 (after 1666)

By Lieve Pietersz Verschuier (1627-1686)

The Four Days Battle, fought during the Second Anglo-Dutch War, is known for being one of the longest naval battles in history. Fought in the North Sea between the Dutch and the English between 1-4 June 1666 the two sides eventually separated, exhausted with a large number of casualties on both sides.

This painting by the sculptor and painter Lieve Pietersz Verschuier (1627-1686), believed to have been a pupil of both Jan Procellis and Simon de Vlieger, captures the action in a golden glow as the sun sets, the peacefulness of the water and sky set as a direct contrast with the ferocity of the action.

The ships’ sails are full of holes; the English ship in the centre of the group to the right of the painting, with the red ensign and royal coat of arms clearly visible on her stern, is losing her fore-topmast, while another is shown sinking to the far right. Another ship is shown already sunk in the foreground. Small boats are laden with men, perhaps survivors of the wreck, one man still clings to the top of the doomed ship’s mast.

The Society  has published a number of articles on the Second Dutch War, including this by Frank Fox from 1998 which looks the hiring of merchantmen by the Royal Navy during the War. Part II of the article concludes extensive listings which give details of the 43 vessels hired during the war and include, for example, the period and place of hire, ships’ age, the captain(s), number of crew, the ordnance carried and any actions in which a specific ship participated.

Aspects of the global effect of the Anglo-Dutch Wars are explored in this article by GA Ballard. They were significant as, During the first half of the seventeenth century, the Dutch had built and consolidated an effective trading monopoly in the Indian Ocean, tolerating no other flags except for a minor and untroubling British presence.

For those interested in the combatants of this period, the life of Sir John Kempthorne, who played a major role in many naval battles in this period, is well worth exploring.