A State Visit, Probably of King Charles II of England to the City of Rotterdam and Antwerp
Attributed to either Abraham Storck (1644-1710) or Jan Baptist Bonnecroy (1618-1676)
Oil on canvas, painted circa 1650-70
123 x 166 cm. each.
This magnificent pair of paintings were formally in an important Italian collection. During the past year or so extensive research has been conducted to discover more of their history and although various highly qualified experts in Old Master paintings and maritime history have been consulted, positive identification of the artist as well as the subject matter is still open for discussion. This article intends to set out the nature of that research and to outline the different suggestions proposed.
Despite varying opinions, it is agreed that the paintings are of superb quality, that they are genuine Old Masters, that they are of Flemish origin and that they date from the mid seventeenth century, circa 1650-1670. Furthermore, based upon their large size and the fact that they were obviously painted as a pair one can justifiably assume that they were commissioned by an important and affluent patron, intended to adorn a large private home or institution.
In recent years the paintings have been carefully restored. It is just possible that during relining that the restorer may have covered a signature on the reverse of the canvases. However one should also bear in mind that not all paintings of this period were signed, especially as they were probably executed upon commission.
It is possible that the artist may have based his designs upon earlier drawings or on earlier engraved prints. This possibility is based upon certain factors; firstly that the painting inscribed Amsterdam on a piece of drift wood in fact depicts the city of Antwerp. Both Remmelt Daalder, curator of paintings, drawings and prints at the Scheepvaartmuseum, Amsterdam and Michael Naxton, a noted maritime historian and ship researcher agreed upon the opinion that it shows Antwerp rather than Amsterdam.
Mr Daalder also pointed out an interesting fact regarding the painting showing a view of Rotterdam. Above the yacht in the centre rises the steeple of St Lawrence Church as it was between 1621 and 1645. In 1621 the medieval church had a wooden spire (as seen in the painting) mounted upon the square sandstone tower; the spire was then removed in 1645. Although this may indicate that the work was executed between 1621-45, he noted that it is more likely that it was painted later. This therefore implies that the drawing of the church and thus presumably other architectural elements were based on earlier drawings or an engraved print.
As curator of paintings of one of the leading Dutch maritime museums, Mr Daalder is one of the most experienced specialists in his field and although other recognised experts have been consulted, Mr Daalder's expertise is given precedent. According to him the paintings could be attributed to several artists. First he suggested that they were possibly painted by Jan Baptist Bonnecroy who was born in Antwerp 12th February 1618 and died in Brussels in 1676. Bonnecroy worked as a pupil of Lucas van Uden in 1644 and the following year was made a master of the Guild of Painters of Antwerp. His best known works depict his native city and in particular the present view of Antwerp compares closely with his large panoramic view of the city by him of 1657, now in the Scheepvaartmuseum at Antwerp. However as Mr Daalder noted, he has as yet not seen works by Bonnecroy painted in as bright a palette as used in the present examples.
He therefore also suggested the artists Abraham Storck (1644-1710) as well as his elder brother Jacobus Storck (1641- d. after 1693), both Amsterdam artists and best known for their views of their native city. Henry Pettifer of Christies, London also initially confirmed the probable attribution to Abraham Storck. Certainly the present pair share the same finesse, rich colouring and luminous glazes associated with Abraham Storck, who significantly is also known for his large canvases. Among many of his works in public collections are some depicting the city of Rotterdam, for example 'The Maas at Rotterdam' in the National Gallery, London.
Finally Mr Daalder cited certain similarities between the present paintings and the work of Arnout (or Aernout) Smit (1641-1710). In particular he noted the similarities with the painting of the waves as well as the colouring as evident here and in other works by Smit. Like Storck, Smit was born in Amsterdam and died in the same city. He was a pupil of Jan Blankerhoff, the second-generation realist painter but as Smit's career progressed his flowing seas reflected a gradual development from realism toward naturalism.
Pieter van der Merwe, curator of paintings at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich London suggested that the paintings could possibly have been the work of the Antwerp artist Jan Peeters (1624-77/80). This view was at one time also expressed by Andrew Mckenzie of Bonhams, London in consultation with Brian Koetzer, who noted that during 1659 Peeters spent six months in Holland making panoramas of the towns' harbours, which were later engraved. A further opinion by Alex Bell of Sotheby's, London was given, namely that the paintings may have been the work of the Antwerp artist Pieter van den Velde (1634-d. after 1687). Clearly there is diversity in opinion as to the identity of the artist. However as Mr van der Merwe, a highly respected maritime painting expert, asserted - Mr Daalder has far greater knowledge of the works of the maritime Lowland painters and for this reason one should respect his opinion.
As far as the subject is concerned, both works portray the arrival of an important State visitation to Rotterdam on the Maas and the Port of Antwerp. A number of the vessels fly the red, white and blue ensign of the United Provinces of the Netherlands. The main vessels are surrounded by a flotilla of other craft, the majority being inland barges or wijdschips as well as warships. To the far right of the stretch along the Maas one can discern another yacht entering port close to the city gate, known as the Ooster Oude Hoofdpoort. Mr Daalder suggested that the painting of Rotterdam might relate to the voyage of Charles II of England in 1660, (who travelled from Breda to the Hague) as depicted by Lieven Verschuier (1630-86) in his painting in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Certainly the yacht appears to be the same as that depicted by Verschuier. According to G.C.E. Crone in "De Jachten der Oranjes", 1937, the exiled King Charles II used the yacht of the City of Rotterdam, the former yacht of the Stadtholder, Willem II.
It appears that the Rotterdam coat of arms appear of the tafferel, although the artist should have used green rather than red for the two vertical strips in the lower part of the arms. To confuse matters, not all agree that the paintings represent the arrival of the English monarch on the Maas at Rotterdam or at Antwerp. According to Micheal Naxton - since there is no evidence of an English royal standard the state party cannot be connected with the English king.
Given the diversity of opinions one can still draw certain conclusions, firstly that these highly decorative works are of Flemish origin, dating from the mid seventeenth century. They represent a State visitation, probably of Charles II arriving at the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam and that the artist was most likely to be Abraham Storck or Jan Baptist Bonnecroy. Finally and conclusively that they are of excellent quality and can be enjoyed as much for their brilliant palette, fluidity of style, maritime and architectural details as well as historical significance.