Painted after a Mediterranean encounter from direct information provided by English officers who were present, the Dutch Master Willem van de Velde Jr. composed a view of naval battle straight from the Algiers coast. Barbary ships and armed sailors assault a vessel of the British Admiralty, with the “haze of battle” obscuring some of the heroic and desperate actions of participants.
One of the exceptionally rare original works of this specific nautical combat, it became a popular 16th and 17th Century subject with his British patrons, to the point were van de Velde painted this scene more than once, with the earliest large original painting residing in the collection of the Earl of Midleton, England. This is the known second such painting, attributed directly to the artist’s studio, with its significant provenance. It is interesting that in this period the artist strove to show humanity on both sides of the naval battle, as men in dire situations attempt to assist each other, amid the chaos and fire.
Barbary corsairs preyed upon foreign ships throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries, right up to the successful British assault on Algiers by Lord Exmouth’s squadron in August, 1816. Internal European conflicts kept the Barbary pirates from fully facing a reprisal until after Napoleon’s downfall. Painted for members of the aristocracy, Willem van de Velde the Younger’s artistic efforts echo through the finest collections and museums still today.
Literature: “The Paintings of the Willem va de Veldes” by M.S. Robinson, National Maritime Museum, London, 1990, Vol. I, pp.234-236, No.625 (2).
Provenance: The Marquess of Sligo, London, 1955; Clive Gomshell-Lloyd, England, 1961; Alan Jacobs Gallery, London, 1977.
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