The Four Days Fight, 1-4 June 1666

Pieter Cornelisz van Soest, The Four Days Fight, 1-4 June 1666, oil on canvas, 940 x 1283 mm, dated ca. 1666. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection


An incident during the second year of the Second Dutch War, 1665-67. It was fought in the southern North Sea between an English fleet of fifty-six ships under the command of the Duke of Albermarle and a larger Dutch fleet commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter. The ‘Four Days Fight’, is generally rated a dobule victory. It was fiercely contested but eventually the English gained the weather position and comparative safety, although large numbers of casualties were incurred on both sides. In the right foreground of the painting an English ship in port-broadside view has burnt almost to the waterline. Beyond the burning ship is a profusion of fighting vessels. On the right, in starboard-quarter view, is the Dutch ‘Gouda’, 72 guns, commanded by Rear-Admiral Isaac Sweers. She is flying his flag together with that of Lieutenant-Admiral Cornelis Tromp, of the Amsterdam squadron, who was also on board. The ‘Gouda’ is in action with an English flagship, in starboard-bow view, flying a blue flag with a harp. Beyond and between these two ships is the stern of ‘Groot Frisia’, 74 guns, commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Tjerck Hiddes from the Friesland squadron. Engaging her on her starboard bow and shown in starboard-quarter view is Vice-Admiral Abraham van de Hulst’s flagship, ‘Spiegel’, 70 guns, which is also in close action to port with Vice-Admiral Jordan’s flagship, the ‘Royal Oak’, 76 guns, in port-bow view. The Union flag is visible above the smoke of this engagement. There are two unidentifiable private ships on the left of this group with the English one bearing the harp motif on her blue pendants. On the extreme right of the painting, in the background, are two more burning ships, the farthest off being the ‘Royal Prince’, 85 guns. In the left foreground of the painting is a dismasted English two-decker, in starboard-quarter view, on her beam-ends to port. Although she is sinking, the royal crest carved on her stern is still visible. The artist has carefully detailed the plight of the sailors fleeing the sinking ship and those already in the water. Several small boats are attempting to rescue them and a sailor in the boat in the centre holds out an oar to help a man climb on board. Others are shown floating and holding on to pieces of wreckage. Another English ship, in starboard-broadside view, is in flames and beyond her a third ship, in starboard-quarter view, is sinking in the centre middle distance. To her left in a concentration of shipping, the stern of de Ruyter’s flagship, ‘Zeven Provincien’, 86 guns, in starboard-quarter view, is shown. Nearer to the viewer and on the extreme left of the painting is Vice-Admiral William Berkeley’s ‘Swiftsure’, 64 guns, in starboard-bow view. This is engaged on both sides by ships of the Zeeland squadron, with Lieutenant-Admiral Cornelis Evertsen senior, in the ‘Walcheren’, 68 guns, on the left and Vice-Admiral Adrianne Banckert in the ‘Tholen’, 60 guns, on the right. It is possible that this signed painting was a commission from Abraham van de Hulst. The artist worked in Amsterdam, where he was burgomaster in 1642. He may have trained with the marine artist Claes Claesz Wou, (1592-1665), and is best known for panoramic battle scenes from the time of the Second Dutch War. The painting is inscribed ‘P.van Soest’.

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