In 1976, when we held our first exhibition devoted solely to marine art, we could never have guessed that we would be even more fascinated by the subject 121⁄2 years later.
But how could one ever tire of it? Marines have so many different, intriguing aspects in addition to their aesthetic value as works of art. It is a genre dominated and shaped by the artists of seventeenth-century Holland - from Hendrick Cornelisz. Vroom, whose pioneering work rightly earned him the title 'father of marine painting', by way of Jan Porcellis, who followed Vroom's manner for years before developing his own revolutionary, monochrome style, to artists of the following generation like Simon de Vlieger, who brought the marine to its full glory. In the second half of the century it was Willem van de Velde and Ludolf Bakhuizen whose bright colours set the tone for their fellow-painters. These and other artists owed their popularity to Holland's close relationship with water, and with the sea in particular. As the Republic rose to become a mighty sea power, so new patrons emerged: the Dutch East and West India companies, the five chambers of Admiralty, and past and serving naval officers. All of them ordered paintings of historic events which redounded to the glory of home and country.
In addition to its artistic or historic value, a marine can also be of interest as a record of topography or of long-vanished ship types.
In the early days our collection consisted mainly of prints and drawings. Our first painting arrived in 1977, and most appropriately it was by that great pioneer, Hendrick Vroom (see p. 5). Since then a great many fascinating works of art have passed through our hands, with the emphasis gradually shifting to paintings, and those by seventeenth-century masters in particular.
On the occasion of our first exhibition in 1976 we pointed out that drawings were still remarkably cheap compared to paintings, and urged collectors to take advantage of this situation, for we felt that it would not last for long. Unfortunately for the small collector, that forecast proved all too accurate, and today the prices for top-quality sheets approach or even match those for paintings. For a long time the seascape itself was undervalued when compared to a subject like a still life, but that too is gradually changing. Nowadays, across the entire spectrum of art, the very finest works are attracting very high prices indeed. However, there are still a few undiscovered areas of marine painting. Early seventeenth-century works, especially, are still relatively inexpensive. Art-lovers who are on the lookout for something more than a framed signature can still find some very nice pieces, although the supply is undoubtedly dwindling.
In this catalogue, which is a review of our collection over the past 121⁄2 years, we have brought together some of the most beautiful, interesting or delightful works which we have had, or still have, in our gallery. In presenting this survey of two centuries of marine painting it has unfortunately been impossible to include all the major paintings to which we have given a temporary home, for we also wanted to provide space for exceptional works by lesser masters.