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An English Ship in a Gale Trying to Claw off a Lee Shore
1672
Willem Van de Velde the Younger

An English Ship in a Gale Trying to Claw off a Lee Shore  1672 Willem Van de Velde the Younger

Two ships are shown in difficulty in a heavy sea with storm clouds blowing away to the right above a rocky coast. The composition is dominated by a two-decker in port-bow view in the left foreground, being tossed close to the rocks by large waves. A ragged red ensign is still flying and although the mainmast is standing, the topmast has been broken off and there is no sign of the topsail.

The positioning of the figures on the steeply pitched deck is a sophisticated interpretation of a technique previously used
by Vroom and Porcellis. The figures are clearly visible, as if shown from an aerial perspective, and many of them look towards the viewer. The waves are shown crashing over the deck on the starboard bow and posing an increased danger for the men struggling to save their ship.

In the right background another English ship, in port-quarter view, has been driven broadside onto the projecting rocks and has lost her foremast. A low coastline is visible beyond. The artist may have incorporated this wreck to indicate the potential plight for the sailors on the main ship. The painting is believed to be one of the first pictures the artist painted in England and is thought to be the right-hand one of a pair, with perhaps the other picture showing the same ships in a calm sea.

It is uncertain whether the painting indicates a specific incident or is an imaginary interpretation of a storm.

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