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: The Battle of the Texel, 11-21 August 1673 (late 17thC)
This painting of the Battle of the Texel (1673) was made by Willem van Der Velde the Younger, an extremely gifted painter of maritime scenes (1633-1707) and the son of Willem Van Der Velde (1610-1693).
The battle was a hard-fought draw between the Dutch on one side and the English and French as allies on the other, though the French showed little appetite for the fight. The principle engagements, therefore, happened between the Dutch and the English though no ships were actually taken or destroyed on either side. It is possible that this image is actually an oil sketch for a finished version now in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and there is evidence that the two were displayed together at the start of the twentieth century.
The Dutch commander in the battle, Lieutenant-Admiral Cornelis Tromp, shifted his flag from the Golden Leuw – it is believed that this image shows Tromp in his new ship, perhaps the Comestaar. His double-prince flag is shown at the main. The flagship of the English admiral Sir Edward Spragge, Royal Prince, is in the centre of the picture. She is shown under incessant attack from Dutch cannon and fireships. She has lost her main and mizzen masts and her admiral’s flag. Behind her is the St. Andrew, flagship of the British Vice-Admiral of the blue squadron, Sir John Kempthorne, whose support of the Royal Prince saved her from capture.
Wreckage and a floating barrel are shown in the foreground. A ship’s barge rescues sailors from another sinking barge. The sun sets.
This is not the only image of the Battle of the Texel that the Soceity has helped to purchase for the National Maritime Museum: A brief piece on The Goulden Leeuw Engaging the Royal Prince at the Battle of the Texel, 11 August 1673 by By Abraham Storck (1644-1708) has also been written.
The Society has published a number of articles relating to this period including a study of ‘The Dutch East-Indiamen: Their Sailors, their Navigators, and Life on Board, 1602–1795′
‘In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Dutch led the world in trade with the East-Indies. The Dutch East-India Company (VOC) was divided into six chambers, Amsterdam, Middleburg, Rotterdam, Delft, Hoorn and Enkhuizen, with a central board, the Heeren XVII, or ‘Gentlemen Seventeen’. Its main trading vessels, retour-schepen or ‘return-ships’, were used for the long voyages between Texel and Batavia. Smaller vessels were used for country trade in the east. Until 1697 there was little uniformity in the type of vessels built, with the ensuing inefficiencies. From 1697 three rates of vessel were specified, although in practice there was still some variation. This article considers the names used for vessels, the ships’ complements and their rations, health, discipline and high mortality rates. It also considers the trading patterns and routes used, and the stagnation of navigational theory and practice by over-regulation.’
A biography of John Kempthorne and his sons shows how he moved from the merchant marine to royal service after the Restoration. By 1665 he was flag captain to Rupert at the Battle of Lowestoft, after which he was promoted to flag rank. After taking part in the major battles of the second Dutch War, he was knighted after a battle with seven Algerine ships. After the third Dutch War, during which he was wounded at the Battle of the Texel, he became Resident Commissioner at Portsmouth. His three sons all served in the Royal Navy. John, the eldest, then joined the East India Company, dying in 1692. The second, Morgan, became captain of a 42-gun ship but was killed in battle in 1681. The third, Rupert, seems to have been a complete contrast, an unpleasant captain who was killed in a tavern brawl in 1692.