This small book is a tribute to Jan Porcellis, the "Raphael of marine painting", as Van Hoogstraten called him.
His earliest works are entirely in the manner of his teacher, Hendrick Vroom, with stylised green waves and sea-monsters. Gradually, though, he began to break free of this attractive but inhibiting straitjacket, and introduced an entirely new theme in marine painting, using monochrome grey tones to brilliant effect to suggest the atmosphere of light, air and water. He totally abandoned the rigid symbolism of the preceding period, and explored new avenues to prepare the way for a new generation of marine artists.
Porcellis's significance only becomes fully apparent when one reviews the long line of artists who are indebted to him. They include the greatest masters of the marine, such as Simon de Vlieger, Jan van de Cappelle, Willem van de Velde the Younger, Ludolf Bakhuizen and Jan van Goyen, who in turn inspired the artists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. "The art of his brush excels especially in the natural depiction of storms at sea, in which the thunderclouds that turn day into night, and the mighty streaks of lightning that emerge from the massed clouds, flash so naturally against rocks, beaches and the foaming brine that a landsman would be afeared of the sea", wrote the eighteenth-century Houbraken.
The painting that inspired this book is a magnificent illustration of Houbraken's description. It is almost as if the waves are trying to surge off the panel, while the sense of depth is perfectly suggested by the band of shadow in the foreground with a band of light behind it--an extremely effective device that was imitated by all later marine artists. The fascination that seafaring Holland had with the ocean main, the fierce beauty of the elements, and the dangers they held--all are found in this picture.
In order to illustrate the influence that Porcellis had over his contemporaries and later generations of marine artists, we have sought some suitable company for him. All the paintings are from our own collection, or were once part of it.
By way of contrast, and in order to highlight Porcellis's innovative qualities, the series opens with a kindred spirit of Hendrick Vroom. Reproducing details rather than the entire painting heightens the impact, as well as doing greater justice to each artist's "hand". In the past, when we published a book about a picture, we provided a narrative for the reader's convenience. This time we have decided to allow the paintings to speak for themselves, and welcome you to this feast for the eye.