This pen painting gives a detailed and vivid impression of the excitement and dangers of whaling, a very lucrative business for the Dutch in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The vessel in the middle foreground is De Faem, a whaling bootschip dating from the beginning of the eighteenth century, like Het Bonte Kalf and De Bonte Walvis on the left. A flute by the name of De Vergulde Klok can be seen lying between De Faem and the two other bootschips.
The first three ships have a link with either Rotterdam or Delfshaven. It seems likely that this was a commissioned work, and on the evidence of the types of ships it can be dated after 1706, the year in which Salm became a member of the Delft painters’ guild of St Luke as ‘mr Teijkenaer op Delfshaven’ (master draughtsman of Delfshaven).
De Faem, which features prominently in the painting, belonged at that time to the Rotterdam shipowners De Erven van Willem Bastiaensz. Schepers. Willem Bastiaensz. was the most important whaling shipowner Holland had ever known. Born in 1620 in Haarlem, he moved to Rotterdam in 1641, where he died in 1704. From 1659 he was one of the delegates of the Greenland Fishery Committee. Between 1672 and 1698 he was a member of the town council, and was elected mayor of Rotterdam several times. Trust in him was so great that he represented the town regularly at meetings of the States-General. From 1690 to 1693 he was also Hoogheemraad of Schieland. Even this does not complete the list of activities of this extraordinary man, who in addition held several leading positions in the Dutch navy. In 1673 he was appointed Lieutenant-Admiral of the Admiralty of the North Quarter, and in 1681 he succeeded Cornelis Tromp in the same capacity at the Amsterdam Admiralty. Finally, in 1691, he was appointed Lieutenant-Admiral of the Rotterdam Admiralty. This was more of an honorary function, for in view of his advanced years his services were seldom required, except as an adviser.
After his death in 1704, Willem Bastiaensz.’s whaling company was continued by his heirs and after 1712 by his son-in-law, the Rotterdam shipowner Jacob Noordheij. On the latter’s death the company was taken over by his widow, so that once more it belonged to someone named Schepers.
Not only did De Faem belong to a prominent shipowner, she was also commanded from 1706 to 1715 by one of the greatest of all Dutch whaling captains, Jan Dirksz. van der Velde, who was appointed Admiral of the Greenland whaling fleet in 1692 in recognition of his services. Although it is not known exactly how many whales he killed during his career, he probably came very close to the tally of Matthijs Pietersz, or Lucky Matthijs, who holds the record with a total of 373 whales. During his time with Willem Bastiaensz.’s company he brought back an average of 8 whales a year, whereas an average of 4 (135 casks of blubber) was normal and sufficiently profitable. Once or twice he failed for some reason to catch even one whale, but he always made up for it, and in 1711 he brought back the incredible number of 15 whales. It seems that he knew exactly which ones to catch, for they were big ones too and 600 casks of oil were extracted from them.
Het Bonte Kalf belonged to the Zaandam shipowner Claas Kalf, while De Bonte Walvis formed part of the fleet run by Albert and Otto Doornencroon of Amsterdam. It is known that Salm, in his pen paintings, nearly always depicted one or more ships that had a commander from his native Delfshaven. Both of the bootschips mentioned above had a Delfshaven commander from 1708 to 1711: Kornelis Jansz. Pothof and Willem de Heer. It is therefore likely that the painting originated in this period, an assumption which is supported by the types of ship depicted.
The whaling flute De Vergulde Klok in the background may also be connected in some way with the Schepers. She belonged to Pieter Pietersz. Mol of Jisp in North Holland, where the Rotterdam firm had among other things a try-house for the extraction of whale oil and they may well been part-owners of the ship.
Adriaen Salm’s pen painting, of which there is a similar version in the Prins Hendrik’s Maritime Museum in Rotterdam, was probably commissioned by the Rotterdam firm of De Erven van Willem Bastiaensz. Schepers. It may well have been a tribute to their succesful commander Jan Dirksz. van der Velde, who in the 26 years he worked for the company managed to capture a total of no less than 195 whales (7493 casks of blubber).