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The Battle of the Texel, 11-21 August 1673

Willem van de Velde, the Younger, The Battle of the Texel, 11-21 August 1673, oil on canvas, 610 mm x 864 mm, dated late 17th century – early 18th century. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Palmer Collection

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The Battle of Texel was the last battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, 1672-74, between the Dutch on one side and the English and French on the other. It represented the final attempt by the Allies to destroy the Dutch fleet and leave the coast free for an invasion of Holland from the sea. The initial superiority of numbers enjoyed by the allies was neutralised by the French whose fleet wished to take very little part in the fighting. Aware of the French reluctance, the Dutch admiral De Ruyter concentrated on the English squadrons, but after a day of fierce action no major unit was taken or destroyed on either side. This may be an oil sketch, for BHC0314 in the NMM Collection, and for a version now in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. The sketch reputedly hung beside the latter version at the beginning of the 20th century. In the left foreground, is the Dutch Lieutenant-Admiral Cornelis Tromp’s ship probably the ‘Comeestar’. Since Tromp transferred ship during the action from the ‘Gouden Leeuw’, 80 -guns, it is not possible to be certain. His double-prince flag is shown at the main. Behind the flagship is a disabled Dutch ship with a shield on her stern visible and showing five or six diagonal stripes with lion supporters. In the centre of the picture is the ‘Royal Prince’ of Admiral Sir Edward Spragge. The battle is shown focused on her defence against Tromp’s repeated attacks with gunfire and fireships. Beyond the ‘Royal Prince’ is the English ‘St Andrew’. She is flying the flag of the vice-admiral of the blue squadron, Sir John Kempthorne, who did much to save the ‘Royal Prince’ from capture. Tromp is firing at the ‘Prince’ which has lost her main and mizzen masts as well as her admiral’s flag. She is shown firing in return. In the foreground is a floating barrel and the wreckage of a mast with figures clinging to it and, to the right, a ship’s barge rescuing people from another sinking barge. In the right corner three men are shown clinging to a small piece of wreckage. In the right foreground there is a Dutch ship, with her fore topmast and mizzen mast missing, her ensign staff broken and the ensign falling overboard. She is probably the ‘Wapen van Holland’, commanded by Matthijs Diksz Pijl and part of Tromp’s squadron. Figures are shown jumping off the ship with others in the water around the stern, which is decorated with a lion. Close by on her starboard side is a galliot picking up people from the sinking ship. Ahead of this ship and of the ‘Prince’ is a Dutch fireship in flames, sent to burn the ‘Prince’. In the distance showing through and above the smoke of battle are a number of ships, both Dutch and English. The sky is infused with the golden glow of a sunset, with clouds parting in the centre of the canvas. The smoke rising from the burning ships rises up to mingle with the clouds. Dating from several years after the event, this is one of many versions of the battle painted by the artist, see also BHC0315. The painting is inscribed ‘W.V.V.J’, on the barrel in the left foreground.

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