Figures on Board Small Merchant Vessels
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Willem van de Velde the Elder
Dutch, about 1650 - 1655
Pen and brown ink and blue-gray wash over leadpoint with stylus underdrawing
8 1/4 x 12 3/4 in.

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In this harbor scene, small craft loaded with barrels of supplies hover around a large vessel as men lift various goods on board. Using ropes, four men try to prepare a load to be taken onto the ship. Three men in broad-brimmed hats stand supervising on the left, while other sailors await the goods or attend to other vessels.

Using brown ink, Willem van de Velde the Elder outlined the boats and gave definition to ropes and shipping tackle. In contrast, he used a blue-gray wash to give volume and depth, using only a few simple strokes to suggest the folds of the sails. Building up the human figures by blending wash and ink, he made quick, sure lines that evoke each gesture and costume without many specific details. As the official artist for the Dutch fleet for many years, van de Velde often recorded such scenes of the bustling activity of marine life. Someone extensively incised the drawing for transfer, even down to the fine details, but no related copy is known today.