Completed Continental European before 1800, Maritime Subjects 25 Is this scene of a shipwreck by Simon de Vlieger?

Topic: Artist

With no further information available online about this work in particular, and as there also seems to be no record of the artist B. de Vlieger, could this actually be by Simon de Vlieger (1601–1653), some of whose work it resembles?

Al Brown, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. This seascape has been attributed to Jan Porcellis (c.1564–1632) with probable studio assistance from Simon de Vlieger (1601–1653). The title has been updated to ‘A Shipwreck on a Rocky Coast’ and the date has been amended from 18th to early 17th century.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. Special thanks to Gillis Tak Labrijn for this attribution and for explaining the different techniques that indicate the likely studio collaboration. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Gillis Tak Labrijn,

Thank you for posting. For the past few years I have been working on a catalogue raisonné of de Vlieger's pictures and drawings.

The image quality does not invite to definite conclusions. Quite a few elements in the composition are remeniscent of de Vlieger's works from the 1630s, most notably the rendering of the three-master at the horizon. The composition scheme, however, is not congruent with what the artist was most often used to do. In general his shores and vessels function as coulisses allowing for a far view into the distance, frequently making use of clear vertical lines towards the vanishing point. De Vlieger's awareness of the rules of linear perspective is apparent from the sheet with perspective studies in the British Museum ( 1874,0808.99).

Interestingly, my list of accepted works by the artist contains no more than a single painting on oval-shaped panel, a picture that was sold at Sotheby's, London, 5 June 2006 lot 28. This latter work could well be regarded as the largest surviving oval marine picture from the 17th century (in the van Romondt sale of 1835 there appears an even larger oval composition by de Vlieger, a beach view measuring 103 x 136.4 cm). The attribution of a 1624 dated picture in the Hermitage, widely published as by de Vlieger, has been refuted.

Sander's comparative image concerns a picture of which the attribution has been subject to debate. The late Jan Kelch kept it for a late work by de Vlieger, dating from around 1650. I will publish the picture in the section of rejected attributions. At first-hand inspection in Cologne a few years ago there was an old label attached to the the picture's dorso with an attribution to Jan Porcellis in 17th-century handwriting. It goes without saying that an attribution to Porcellis deserves no credibility.

I will follow up on the subject after inspection of a high-resolution image.

Can we contact Ipswich Borough Council to see whether they have a high-res image of this painting for Gillis Tak Labrijn, who is working on a catalogue raisonne of Simon de Vlieger, to inspect more closely?

I believe the collection will only have the image that is on Art UK, as we've already been in touch about this painting and they haven't offered us a better one. It's very discoloured. I've sent a new request to the collection in view of Gillis Tak Labrijn's interest in this work.

Louis Musgrove,

I have asked at the Museum and this painting is in " Storage".

I can see why someone might have called this 'de Vlieger'. There are works by him that have this browny colouration (or perhaps discolouration in the Ipswich case) as in the first below and very similar coastal rock forms as in the second, so 'follower of' is not unreasonable but it would be good to find an alternative name. Jacob Adraensz Bellevois -though usually bluer - is one that comes to mind, who was influenced by de Vlieger: see the third below

Thanks: it looks good (but not Bellevois, whose seas are frothier): probably someone in the (late) Porcellis, de Vlieger area. The back treatment of the upper panel looks unusual, if the lines are saw cuts they are presumably original since there doesn't look as if the two boards have a history of separation unless very well concealed: both oak presumably, though more obvious in the lower.

Gillis Tak Labrijn,

The additional photographs allow for a definite attribution to Jan Porcellis, at least for the main part of the scene (the area under the red line in the attached image).

The playful hatches that indicate the crests, suggesting depth by great effect, are idiosyncratic for Porcellis. Such is the treatment of staffage with the typical bright red accent in the hat (congruent to the figures of a picture I sold on behalf of the Max and Iris Stern Foundation a few years ago, now in the Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem. See detail image below for a comparison). The application of the paint where the rocks are indicated reminds me of the Max Stern Porcellis. The thick oak plank that forms the lower two third of the panel also speaks for Porcellis’ authorship, as he was keen on solid panels taken from the center of the stem of old trees (as is established in a research by dendrochronologist Esther Jansma).

As much as I am convinced that the picture was started by Porcellis, I do question if he was the one who actually finished it. This would be no exception, since collaborations were common in the studio. There is a document from the 1610s stating a certain Hans Bogaerts as a studio apprentice and collaborator. Recently I’ve had two pictures by Porcellis in our gallery’s collection that appeared to be either begun or finished by another hand. The sky in the Colchester picture lacks the opacity one would expect with Porcellis, whose water appears often to be lighter than air. There is a pentimento visible in the central vertical rock, suggesting that the initial idea was to paint it only one third of its current height.

Would it be possible to identify the second hand that finished the picture? There is much to say in favor of Simon de Vlieger. The dry and pasty brushstroke above the horizon over which the three-master was painted with a thin brush in diluted paint is a technique for atmospheric perspective that is often applied by de Vlieger. The rendering of the ship and ensign are reminiscent of some drawings by the master. Certain compositorial interventions do also point in his direction, such as the clear diagonal on which the far ships have been placed and the positioning of the central tall rock, its left outline touching the vertical center of the panel and thus dividing the picture optically in two separate halfs, a composition scheme that appears often in de Vlieger’s work.

De Vlieger’s main importance as a marine painter is the fact that he bridges the generations of Jan Porcellis and Willem van de Velde the Younger, who was his pupil. A master-pupil relationship has also been suggested for Porcellis and de Vlieger but so far lacked any evidence. The present picture supports in my view the hypothesis that Simon de Vlieger has been active in Porcellis' studio.

Many thanks Gillis for your great bit of detective work suggesting that the painting could be a combination of the hands of Jan Porcellis and his suggested pupil Simon de Vlieger, and thus highlighting the importance of this painting in Ipswich Borough Council's collection.

I will be contacting conservator friends to see whether they can provide further information about the bonding of the two different panels.

Louis Musgrove,

I notice at the bottom of the frame it says "PETERS". I wonder if this painting in the past was thought to be by Jan Peeters 1624 to 1677 ?? He also did shipwreck scenes.

Louis - Jan Peeters is usually more colourful than this and close to his elder brother and tutor Bonaventura, though there could be worse old guesses.

Gillis - Thank you for your detailed consideration. I am interested that you say evidence for de Vlieger working under Porcellis is lacking. That may be so in documentary terms but it is very old received wisdom that he did, repeated in many reference works. If solely on grounds of stylistic influence, that perhaps ought to be more frequently noted (though I have never seen anyone argue against it).

The figure (and painting) comparisons with the ex-Stern Porcellis now in the Frans Hals Museum look very convincing to me. We can leave this discussion open for a while for other ideas on who else might have had a hand in it but that may be a bit too arcane to get further forward on here. In this example Ipswich certainly has a very interesting and early 17th-century - not 18th-century -marine work apparently by Jan Porcellis (c.1584-1632), the founding master of the 'grey' Dutch school, apparently with 'studio assistance' in the upper part. Its condition looks pretty good -structurally at least - and if given a conservation check and perhaps some cleaning more might be learnt from it.

Unless anyone has any serious doubts or other comment to make I would be happy to recommend that the attribution is changed to 'Jan Porcellis and studio' and supporting notes can include the suggestion that de Vlieger (d. 1653), his generally presumed main pupil, is a likely candidate for involvement. Nice frame and unusual oval format too: the whole thing looks underrated.

Many thanks for for all your discussion and contributions on this painting. It has certainly highlighted a very interesting story to follow up on. It will be good to edit the record as suggested and add in more information.

I would be really interested in any feedback from conservation staff about the panels.

Hopefully I can raise the necessary funds to get the painting cleaned and out on display.

Could this be Hilda F. Finberg who was co-proprietor with her husband A.J. Finberg of the Cotswold Gallery, 59 Frith Street, Soho, London, from 1921 to 1938? The accession number suggests purchase in 1935. Alexander Joseph Finberg, art historian, was a founder of the Walpole Society and biographer of J.M.W. Turner.

That's an interesting suggestion. While 'Shipwreck scene' is a practical label for inventory purposes, I suspect that it probably got applied simply that way. The collection might now consider adjusting the title to something like 'A shipwreck on a rocky coast' or ' A ship wrecked in bad weather on a rocky coast' (i.e. not quite a 'storm'): these add useful search terms and are a more traditional way of describing this sort of work.

The painting was purchased from Finborough Hall in Great Finborough , Suffolk. The estate had belonged to William Wollaston, MP for Ipswich (we have a portrait of Wollaston by Gainsborough in the collection) but was sold to Roger Pettiward in 1794 and remained the Pettiward family seat until 1936.

Unfortunately there is no history file for the painting but just noted in the accession register.

Thanks very much Emma. I'll update the acquisition record. Would you consider updating the title as well with one of the options suggested by Pieter on 02/09/2020?

S. Elin Jones,

It appears that the vast majority of the Finborough Estate was sold off over a period of time from 1935. Included was the land, buildings and contents. Is it possible that the painting was sold in the auction of the 22nd of October1935?
(Att1) - Free press and post, October 19th 1935

About two weeks ago, an auction house in Diss was selling a copy of the auction catalogue from the Estate sale.

It would be interesting to see whether the painting was included in the catalogue.
Could there be a copy already in the Museum? or within their local archive?
Would the auction house possibly still have the lot?

1 attachment

Many thanks E Jones. I would agree that it looks likely the painting was sold at the 21st or 22nd Oct 1935 sale of contents from Finborough Hall.
The following is in the Suffolk Record Office so we should be able to obtain a copy, although might take some time with limited access to the SRO at the moment.
'Catalogue of the sale of the major portion of the contents of the mansion, comprising garden effects and plants, game keeper's equipment, effects from the estate yard, bedroom furnishings and the contents of the Library, the contents of the reception rooms, oil paintings, china and plate. For sale on 21 and 22 Oct 1935.
Vendor: Roger Pettiward, Esq.
Auctioneers: H C Wolton'

Title change

Yes we would indeed consider a title change and will be interesting to find the sales catalogue to see how it was referenced.
Will keep you up to date as it progresses.

Thanks for that: though a fairly simple example these 'shipwreck scenes' are either more or less religious metaphors, rooted in too common experience at the time, of the hazards of life and necessity of faith for Christian salvation. The distant vessel is safe in the offing, ill-fortune (at least) has cast the other away on a hostile lee shore and the cross formed by the 'top' of the ship's foremast, the last standing of three, is practically dead centre above the remains of a crew about to die as the wreck finally breaks up.

When the collection has resolved an improved title on the lines I suggested on 2/9/20, and Art UK are ready, I recommend this discussion closes. The input from Gillis has provided answer to the original query about artist identity - interestingly so in that it appears to be Porcellis perhaps assisted by de Vlieger - and a little headway has also been made on provenance. The painting looks a worthwhile candidate for further examination, redisplay and conservation publication on structure etc: perhaps when that is done Ipswich could also get back to Art UK with a view to posting up a short summary and new overall framed image in the 'Stories' section. Many thanks to all contributors so far.