14.04.23. Greenwich and the Van de Veldes, by Karen Moule

The Van de Veldes – father and son Dutch artists from the late 1600s and early 1700s – came to my attention when Mark Beattie Edwards showed the drawing of the Klein Hollandia ship as part of the ‘Digging for Britain’ programme in January this year.

When the weekly NASAC e-newsletter informed me that there was an exhibition of their art at the Queen’s House, at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, I booked my ticket as I was intrigued to see more of their work.

Having studied graphic design as a teenager I have always been interested in art, and quite a variety of styles and periods, however always been very keen on maritime art as we had a lot of it on the walls at home as I grew up.

The leaflet blurb sets the scene for the exhibition very well: “Royal Museums Greenwich is the home to the world’s largest collection of works by the leading marine artists of the 17th century, Willem van de Velde the Elder and his son, Willem van de Velde the Younger. 350 years ago, the Van de Veldes moved from their home in the Dutch Republic to England, where Charles II gave them a working space in the Queen’s House. From their studio, father and son pioneered marine painting in Britain and established a taste for the genre that persists today. There are few collections of any 17th-century artist’s work – maritime or otherwise – as comprehensive as the Van de Veldes collection at Greenwich or as revealing about how an artist’s studio functioned at that time. The exhibition celebrates this extraordinary collection and its unique association with the Queen’s House, as much a site for contemporary art then as it is today”.


The exhibition didn’t disappoint. The father’s core focus was on sketches and pen and ink drawings of maritime scenes – both everyday situations as well as battles. Using his own ship while drawing the scenes, he would sometimes struggle to get out of the way of the action in some cases (!) and you can see how close he was to that action as he often included himself and his ship in many of his finished pieces.

The son tended to focus on oil paintings of maritime scenes, either working up his own sketches or his dad’s into stunning paintings.


In some of the long thin sketches of a battle or fleet there would be little notes in the margins to inform the finished work to follow of the wind direction, strength, sea state, the direction the ships were sailing, and often the names of the ships alongside numbers allocated by their masts.

It was a fascinating insight into their method as well as an opportunity to appreciate the finished pieces whether in oil or pen and ink. The most astonishing thing for me was the level of detail that the pen and ink drawings went into. I have included the main picture here and then a close up of two small sections of the drawing to show how much detail the father managed to capture at the time! Quite exceptional observational and recording skills.

If you’re into maritime art and history, I highly recommend visiting this exhibition and it’s on until 14th January 2024. And it’s free. I’d be very happy for a second visit!

If you’d like to join us in 2023 for some fun and adventures or would like more information about NASAC, including details about membership, please contact Sara on [email protected]