Willem van de Velde the Elder

Dates1611 - 1693

When Willem van de Velde was sixty-two, King Charles II refused to allow him to continue risking his life at sea. Yet even on shore this artist never stopped drawing and painting ships. A contemporary noted: "[H]e had a Model of the Masts and Tackle of a Ship always before him."

Van de Velde's father was a seaman, but little is known of his early life. He moved to Amsterdam in 1636 and traveled with Dutch trade ships to the Baltic during the early 1640s. Later, he drew and painted the Dutch fleet during the Anglo-Dutch war, sometimes as the official recording artist, sometimes as an independent observer, witnessing battles from the deck of his small boat.

Van de Velde regularly collaborated with his son Willem, also a painter. His other son, Adriaen van de Velde, became a landscape painter. When the French invaded Holland in 1672 the family moved to England, quickly gaining recognition from King Charles II.

In his drawings, mostly executed in pen and gray wash, van de Velde paid particular attention to the details that differentiated ships, such as figureheads, stern carvings, and gunports. Naval historians now use his ship portraits to study the rig and build of vessels in his day.