Completed Maritime Subjects 11 Further information sought on the four-panel 'Battle of Sole Bay'.

Topic: Painting description

It would be useful to know why the set of four paintings at Sandwich of which this is the first has the identification it does: it is also not by van de Velde the Younger, or apparently after any specific works by him, but I doubt an alternative artist would be identifiable.

This one shows a Dutch ship of two decks on fire, which did not occur at Solebay (the destruction by fire of the English 100-gun 3-decker flagship 'Royal James' of Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich – the vice-admiral of the blue squadron – and his resultant drowning being the sole large loss there this way: the 54-gun Dutch 'Jozua' just sank after capture). The rear squadron at Solebay was also an allied French one (flying Bourbon white) of which there is no sign.

The second panel of the series shows what appears to be James, Duke of York's 'Prince' (flying the royal standard) engaged with a Dutch flagship which may be flying the flag of the United Provinces: this might represent de Ruyter at Solebay (in 'Zeven Provincien') or – at the Battle of Lowestoft in 1665 – van Wassenaer in the 'Eendracht', which was there the major Dutch ship destroyed by fire and explosion (i.e. not an anonymous two decker as in the current panel). Another English vice-admiral's ship flies the Union – normally the sign of Prince Rupert at this point, who was only present at Lowestoft leading the white squadron (though the ship shown here flies red) and not so at Solebay. Significantly however, Sandwich too was also at Lowestoft as the rear commander and it was only there and at Solebay that the Duke of York personally commanded the fleet.

In sum, though the detail does not look at all accurate, the subject might be intended as Lowestoft rather than Solebay unless there is reason to know it is meant to be the latter. Both were English victories, but Lowestoft the more conclusive.

In same collection, by same hand, but in this case not attributed to van de Velde:

Less clearly same hand, same place, but may be:

There are also four paintings of the visit of Catherine of Braganza to Sandwich (none maritime), probably by the same hand as the 'van de Veldes' and the Cinque Ports ships, and all equally wrongly attributed to him (simply not his subject in their case, let alone style issues).

All have decorative quality, but that's what they are about: artisan work of significant 'local connections' all probably broadly c.1700.


Have now looked: Thomas Dorman in 1883 ('Old Painted Panels at Sandwich' in Arch. Cant. vol. 15, pp. 142-47) did well to identify the date of the visit of Catherine of Braganza there as early May 1672, a few weeks before the Battle of Solebay was fought – but off the Suffolk, not Kent coast – so on grounds of date, and the Earl of Sandwich connection, there is a circumstantially implied connection, albeit no more than that: but the 'van de Velde' notions in his last paragraph – mainly general opinions of unspecified others in an area in which he expressly says he has no claim to authority can be discounted. Its the sort of fishing-for-names attribution that tended to occur in a period when theirs were the only ones generally known in this area. Perhaps the more interesting question, allowing it is a more artisan hand, is whether native English or 'Dutch school' and at what late 17th–early 18th century date?

It is worth noting for anyone who does not look at the Dorman paper (1883), that these panels were not painted for the Sandwich Guildhall –where they now are – but were found in some other house in the town.

The collection say:

'I find Pieter van der Merwe's observations very interesting and helpful in understanding these paintings and the others associated with it in the collection. I wonder if he and others have read the account of the paintings, their discovery and subsequent history online in Archaeologia Cantiana Vol 15 1883.

None of the panels are signed, but the letters 'P. P. P.' were identified on a flag in the 'Sole Bay' quartet. The representations online are no substitute for seeing the paintings themselves. Should anyone wish to visit the Sandwich Guildhall to examine any of the paintings they would be most welcome. Just contact the Guildhall ( )

'If, as seems likely, the paintings were commissioned by Mayor Bartholomew Coombes then they must be 17th century not 18th century. If, as also seems likely, they were painted by provincial artist, then one must ask how detailed was his knowledge of the events depicted, and if 'artistic licence' was favoured or requested where the burning Dutch ship is concerned. I feel we must rely on Navel Historians to judge how accurate the depiction of the two fleets may be. The collection would welcome all such views in order to tease out as many facts and interpretations as possible where the 'Sole Bay' and 'Catherine of Braganza' panels are concerned. I attach a detail of the 'Sole Bay' painting (left most panel of four) showing the flag bearing the three letters 'P'.'

Pieter van der Merwe, Maritime Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK

1 attachment

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. It was concluded that this painting represents a sea battle of the Second or Third Anglo-Dutch Wars and that the evidence for the traditional association with the Battle of Solebay (1672) is not obvious. The work will be listed as ‘English School’ and dated ‘late 17th C’. Art UK’s record will be updated and the changes will appear in due course.

Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.


Charles Miller,

Interesting.. Just an observation, perhaps to either the artist or original owner, but PPP could conceivably stand for Phineas Peter Pett – a talented modeller, but perhaps he tried his hand at marine painting too – less successfully, and perhaps these originally furnished his house at (was it) Chatham – not so very far from Sandwich if they were sold after his death.. Just a thought as I say..

Thanks Charles: interesting speculation, but I wonder why on a Dutch ensign (and apparently on a ship with the arms of Amsterdam on the stern if its three crosses above each other, though usually white ones on a dark field rather than red).

Osmund Bullock,

The significance of the PPP may, perhaps, be found in a motto, 'Pugno Pro Patria' (I Fight for Country) apparently used in this period by one of the five Dutch admiralties that supplied ships for the Dutch Republic, that of Rotterdam/the Maas (de Maze). The three Ps are commonly shown on or around the Admiralty's coat of arms, and I can imagine might well have been added to the Dutch ensign too. The arms themselves seem to have been two anchors crossed in saltire - just possibly what is intended by the red-on-white crosses. See: [page 89] and and

If there any chance of having a high-res image of the whole of the ship's stern? It's possible we could deduce more if we could see the full coat of arms - and lower down, just above the stern chaser gun-ports, it looks like there might perhaps be seven figures bearing the shields of the Seven Provinces, as on another contemporary Dutch vessel:

If the rigging beyond it is intended to be part of the same ship (I'm having trouble making sense of it), then a close-up of the flag flying atop the main mast (of the ship on the left) would also be helpful.

Though they don't actually join up, the Catherine of Braganza set has a visual continuity. However I am having difficulty finding any similar sense of unity in these four paintings, whichever way round I arrange them. Could they perhaps represent four different actions? And to confuse matters, the source of the close-up - what the Collection calls the 'left most panel of four' - is actually numbered four, implying it is the one on the right. Pieter, meanwhile, seems to be referring to this same panel, which he calls the second in the series, when discussing the flags/standards two of the ships are flying!

Thanks for that: the triple-X arms are presumably intended to be those of Amsterdam -though usually white-, which was the Admiralty of Holland not the Admiralty of the Maas (Rotterdam) with which the PPP is usually associated, but I don't think one has to expect things to be entirely literal in work like this.

Louis Musgrove,

I have looked at the four panels -and it is difficult to see if they join together to form a panorama. ????
I have looked at other paintings of the battle- and it seems to me that the four panels in question depict ships of a slightly earlier period.
It is said that the battle was able to be watched from the cliffs of Southwold. The Duke of York and the Earl of Sandwich regularly stayed at Southerland House Southwold during the Dutch War.
After the battle some of the casualties were brought to Ipswich to be cared for ain Lord Curzons old house in Silent Street.

Following PCF request not to leave things open too long I think it would be wise to suggest to the collection that they consider calling this set 'A sea battle of the Second or Third Anglo-Dutch Wars' noting the traditional association with Solebay (1672) but that the detail for anything so specific is not obvious. As to painter, it is just not van de Velde, nor obviously a Dutch hand, which rather leaves it by default as 'unknown artist' - and an artisnal and probably English one even if following Dutch example; late 17th century. The matter can be re-opened as/ when there is more to say.

Edward Stone,

The collection has been contacted about this recommendation.

Linda Elliott,

I am the Honorary Archivist at the Sandwich Guildhall, I have been informed by the Curator that we have an expert on Nautical artworks coming to inspect the panels in the next few weeks. Once he has visited us I will let you know his thoughts on both the subject and the paintings.
Kind regards,
Linda Elliott