Vroom – ‘father of marine painting’

I started this blog with the aim of marrying the two worlds of interest I straddle: one as a visual artist and the other as an enthusiast of maritime history. As I delved into the origins of maritime art, one name kept coming up, that of Dutch painter Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom.

Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom, "Battle between England and Spain". oil on canvas 1601

Vroom was born in Haarlem (in The Netherlands) in the early 1560s. His documented artistic career started with a mention of him as a painter of Delftware.  At nineteen defied his father and began extensive travels through Spain, France, Poland and Italy, where gained patronage from the Cardinal Ferdinand de’ Medici and met the painter Paulus Bril.

After returning to Haarlem in 1590, he began developing his career as a marine painter.  A notable commission from the English Lord Admiral, Lord Howard of Effingham (Earl of Nottingham from 1596) saw Vroom design ten tapestries commemorating the Admirals his victory over the Spanish Armada.

Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom, "Ships Trading in the East", National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London)

Vroom is regarded as the father of marine painting, beginning with the “birds-eye” view of earlier Dutch marine art, while his later works showed a viewpoint much lower and with more realistic depiction of the sea and included extraordinary detail and accuracy in the ships’ rigging and design.  As the Dutch rose to become a leading maritime power, Vroom pioneered marine painting as a specialist art form and worked widely in Europe gaining international attention.

Vroom, not only had traveled all around Europe by sea but was once ship wrecked on a journey to Portugal, and on his return to Haarlem from that adventure it was reported that he got off the ship at the last minute acting on a premonition.  While that choice branded him “a crazy painter” at the time, the vessel did indeed sink in the Øresund near Helsingor, thus Vroom was reported dead in his home of Haarlem. His wife shortly received his letter to the contrary.

Vroom died in Haarlem early in 1640.

Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom’s works are located in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam in Amsterdam, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Royal Collection,  and the National Maritime Museum London and other important collections.

Footnote:  In an earlier version of this blog post, I had used the painting below as an example of Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom’s work, however further investigation turned up the new that in 1983, the unsigned painting was attributed to Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen.

"The Explosion of the Spanish Flagship in the Battle of Gibraltar April 25th 1607" - oil on canvas, painted 1622, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Formerly attributed to Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom, (until 1983) now attributed to Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen.

I quote from the website www.sailingwarship.com

“In 1621 the head of the Admiralty of Amsterdam Prince Maurice (Mauritz) decided to get a new painting for his newly built residence in the Stadtholder Quarter in The Hague. Initially Hendrick Vroom was contracted to make a draft. Vroom requested an astronomical sum of 6000 florins. The negotiations stalled, and, after Vroom left the meeting, “calling out words of insolence”, it was concluded that the task should also be given to “another good Master in this Art, so that one could decide, who of the two is better and whom the contract is to be awarded”. Two officials travelled to Haarlem and visited there the studios of both Vroom and van Wieringen. The works of the latter made a very good impression and he was asked to make a draft picture “of two ships, eight foot wide and five foot high”.”


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