Willem van de Velde the Younger first gained his vast knowledge of the sea and sailing ships by studying under his father, the celebrated marine painter Willem van de Velde the Elder (1611–1693). The junior Van de Velde became skilled at depicting the flow of tides, the rippling of waters against a sandy shore, and raging storms that buffeted huge seafaring vessels and threatened to destroy them. The son’s work also shows a sensitivity to the effects of light and atmosphere, which he learned from his years in the studio of Simon de Vlieger (1600/1601–1653).

Ships in a Gale is one of Van de Velde's early masterpieces. It is filled with the drama of a churning sea on which two storm-tossed ships struggle to avoid jagged rocks that have already claimed a third vessel. The painting is not only compositionally dramatic but also endlessly engaging in its details: figures scramble up masts, haul in the sails, and hang from lines attached to the bowsprit. As birds swoop over the foaming breakers, sailors fight the waves in their desperate attempt to reach the relative safety of the rocks before drowning. The painting is in extraordinary condition and has retained every element of its original character, particularly in the physicality of the ships, figures, and rocks and the translucency of clouds, sky, and water.


  • Title: Ships in a Gale
  • Creator: Willem van de Velde the Younger
  • Date Created: 1660
  • Physical Dimensions: overall: 72.4 x 108 cm (28 1/2 x 42 1/2 in.) framed: 91.1 x 126.1 x 5.7 cm (35 7/8 x 49 5/8 x 2 1/4 in.)
  • Provenance: Probably Proley (or Proly) collection, Paris;[1] (sale, Hôtel de Bullion by Paillet and Boileau, Paris, 20 March 1787 and days following, possibly no. 114).[2] brought to England 1823 by (Thomas Emmerson, London). Jeremiah Harman [1763-1844], Higham House, Woodford, by 1835;[3] (his estate sale, Christie & Manson, London, 17-18 May 1844, 2nd day, no. 106, as _A Storm and Shipwreck_); Edmund Higginson [1802-1871], Saltmarshe Castle; (his sale, Christie & Manson, London, 4-6 June 1846, no. 218, as _A Storm and Shipwreck_); purchased by Brown.[4] Edmund Higginson, Saltmarshe Castle; (his sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 16 June 1860, no. 32, as _A Storm and Shipwreck_); purchased by Turner.[5] Edward Sholto, 3rd baron Penrhyn [1864-1927], London; (sale, Sotheby's, London, 3 December 1924, no. 79, as _Rocky Coast with choppy sea and shipping_). possibly with (Hand, London); sold to private collection, United States, possibly Samuel Borchard [d. 1930], New York; his estate; (his estate sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, 9 January 1947, no. 38, as _A Shipwreck in a Storm off a Rocky Coast_);[6] private collection, South America;[7] (Otto Nauman, New York); purchased 16 June 2000 by NGA. [1] The following provenance is given in the prospectus prepared by Otto Naumann at the time of the sale in 2000, in NGA curatorial files. [2] This sale included more than twenty works by Van de Velde. See the description of Sale F-A1806 in The Getty Provenance Index Databases. [3] John Smith, _A Complete Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters_, 9 vols., London, 1829-1842: 6(1835):327-328, no. 26. [4] A copy of the sale catalogue at the Getty Research Library is annotated "Brown," and a newspaper clipping pasted in the same catalogue reads "Lot 218...bought for 300 guineas by Mr. Brown." (Copies in NGA curatorial files.) [5] According to a handwritten note in John Smith's sale catalogue, the painting was bought by Turner for 153 pounds, 6 shillings. A copy of the sale catalogue at the Getty Research Library is also annotated with the same information (copy in NGA curatorial files). [6] Stuart Borchard, Samuel's son, lent the painting to a 1942 exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The 1947 sale of the "Samuel Borchard Collection" was, according to the sale catalogue, "by order of Stuart Borchard." Michael Strang Robinson, _Van De Velde: A Catalogue of the Paintings of the Elder and the Younger Willem van de Velde_, 2 vols., Greenwich, 1990: 2:1036-1038, no. 391, incorrectly states that the painting was sold by "Stuart Borchard's son" at the 1947 sale. [7] The dealer's prospectus indicates that the private owner in South America probably acquired the painting at the 1947 sale.
  • Medium: oil on panel

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