A Kaag at Sea in a Fresh Breeze, Shipping on the Roadstead of Texel

Rarely has an artistic family been as blessed with talent as the Van de Veldes. The father was a virtuoso ship draughts- man, and his two sons, his namesake Willem and Adriaen, were brilliant painters, each in his own genre: Willem as a marine artist and Adriaen as a master of bucolic landscapes.

Before the two Willems moved to England in 1672- 1673 (Adriaen had died at the beginning of 1672) it was mainly the father who received one major commission after another. The younger Willem seems to have spent most of his time in the studio making small oil paintings, not for specific clients but for people who came in off the street in search of an attractive ‘sea piece’ to hang on the wall. That is the conclusion drawn from the small size of most of his pictures prior to 1672, rarely more than half a square metre. He only started making large paintings on a regular basis after going to live in England, and there he went to the other extreme with canvases up to 3 metres wide, such as his huge painting of the Gouden Leeuw at the Battle of the Texel in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, and the famous work in the Amsterdam Museum, The ‘Gouden Leeuw’ on the IJ by Amsterdam of 1686, which he painted while on a visit to the city.

An artist would only make pictures that big if he was specifically asked to do so. Even the most successful painters would not have set up such a large canvas on their easels unless they knew beforehand that they had a customer for it. Van de Velde’s Dutch fleet assembling before the Four Days’ Battle of 11-14 June 1666, with the ‘Liefde’ and the ‘Gouden Leeuwen’ in the foreground, is 202.5 cm wide, making it one of his ten largest pictures, or at least of the ones that have survived. Only three of those ten date from his Dutch period,2 including the famous ship portrait in the Wallace Collection in London, which also features the Liefde.

Given its size, A Kaag at Sea in a Fresh Breeze , Shipping on the Roadstead of Texel, can be dated around 1670 when he started to paint large pieces in a storm in his most creative period, shortly before his departure for England. Van de Velde was already anticipating the demand for spectacular seascapes from both his future English patrons and the many collectors of his work.