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An Action of the Four Days' Battle, 1-4 June 1666

Lieve Pietersz Verschuier, An Action of the Four Days’ Battle, 1-4 June 1666, oil on wood panel, 572 mm x 825 mm, dated [unknown]. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Palmer Collection

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The Four Days’ Battle, during the Second Dutch War, 1665-67, was the longest fleet action in naval history and almost a major disaster for the English. It was fought in the southern North Sea between an English fleet of 56 ships under the command of the Duke of Albemarle and a larger Dutch fleet commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter. The outcome was fiercely contested but eventually the English gained the weather position and comparative safety, although a large number of casualties were incurred on both sides. The golden glow of the painting, with the sinking sun embedded behind the clouds, implies that the action shown was towards evening. On the left is a group of ships of which the nearest flies the red ensign and is engaged with the next ship to the right, also viewed from the stern and flying the Dutch flag. The smoke indicates the ferocity of the action. The right of the painting is occupied with the principal ships shown. In the centre is an English ship, in stern and starboard view, flying the red ensign. Her sails are full of holes from shot to indicate a fierce battle. She has the royal coat of arms carved on the stern and is losing her fore-topmast. Figures are clearly visible on the deck, taking part in the action with the Dutch ship shown to the left of her. Another Dutch ship is visible in stern view on the right, flying the Dutch flag and pennant. She flies the Triple-Prince flag of the Amsterdam Admiralty, which was only used during the Second Dutch War, and is shown firing her guns at the English ship on the left. Beyond her a ship is shown sinking on the far right and figures can still be seen on the deck, with a small boat nearby picking up survivors. In the foreground a ship’s boat is laden with men. One sailor stands up in the bow holding out a boat-hook towards a figure still clinging to the top of the mast of a sunken ship. Despite the evident ferocity of the action, the artist has aspired to create atmosphere with the golden glow of the setting sun. The artist is believed to have been a pupil of Jan Porcellis and Simon de Vlieger. He is also recorded as a sculptor and portrait painter.

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