Timothy Lawrence Williams MA (Hons) Revealing De Ruyter’s Raid on the English Fleet at Chatham
Fig 1. Pieter Cornelis Dommersen De Ruyter’s Raid on the English Fleet at Chatham (1880) – Brighton Museum & Art Gallery In the February 2007 edition of the Review Bryony Bartlett-Rawlings explained the aims and intentions of the National Inventory Research Project (NIRP): a project established in order to help museums research and catalogue their collections, in addition to presenting this information on a publicly accessible website. Concerned in the first instance with non-British Continental oil paintings dating between 1200 and 1900 residing in UK public collections. The database is now accessible online via the Visual Arts Data Service (www.vads.ahds.ac.uk). Like Bryony, I was fortunate to have been awarded the task of researching early European oil paintings in the collection of Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. During this immensely enjoyable but far too short tenure of three months, my task was to examine and research Brighton’s collection of Dutch and Flemish old master paintings in their various locations: storerooms, basements, walls, up ladders, in drawers, conservation studios, on loan in stately homes and, just occasionally on the walls of the gallery. Subsequently, I was offered the opportunity to curate an exhibition displaying the results of my research titled, Old Masters, New Eyes. Whilst preparing the selection of paintings for the hang – a process that involved remedial conservation treatment Janet Brough, the Museum’s conservator uncovered a signature on De Ruyter’s Raid on the English Fleet at Chatham. Traditionally thought to have been painted by the Dutch artist Dirk Langendijk circa 1770 (fig.1), the painting was also presumed the basis for Mattheus De
Timothy Lawrence Williams MA (Hons) Sallieth’s engraving De beroemde onderneming op de rivieren van London (fig.2) published by Dirk de Jong, Rotterdam in 1790.1
Fig 2. Mattheus de Sallieth De beroemde onderneming op de rivieren van London (1790) – British Museum The signature, however which had evaded eyes for the best part of a century, attests that the painting is in fact by the 19th century Dutch artist Pieter Cornelis Dommersen, and clearly dated 1880. Pieter's essential repertoir consisted of marine subjects; seascapes, canals and landscapes exclusively in the oil medium. He worked in a traditional Dutch style, paying homage to celebrated Dutch marine painters such as Willem van de Velde and Abraham Storck of the 17th century – indeed, according to an old label verso, at some point the painting had also been ascribed to the former artist. In spite of his conservative hand, Pieter’s work displays excellent composition and depth, exquisitely capturing movement and atmosphere, for which he maintained a solid reputation, although never quite reaching the notoriety and exposure of his more adventurous contemporaries. There appear to be many errors, least a confusion of identity in the existing biographies of Pieter Cornelis Dommersen and his family - many of whom
Rogers, D., Brighton Art Gallery and Museum: Catalogue of Paintings in Oil, before 1837, Brighton, 1964, p. 32.
Timothy Lawrence Williams MA (Hons) followed in his footsteps as a painter. It is necessary therefore, to correct and clarify these errors in order to aid further research into a talented and prolific family of artists. Pieter Cornelis Dommersen was born in the medieval (and perhaps surprisingly for a marine painter) inland city of Utrecht, Holland in 1834. The railway connecting Utrecht to Amsterdam was opened in 1843 greatly increasing the city’s prosperity and population, and likely provided Dommersen with the mode to fulfil his artistic ambition in the capital, where he was recorded as living and working by 1850. Perhaps due to competition, graduation or a desire to travel, his time in Amsterdam was short lived, as he later emigrated with his fiance Anna Petronella Synja and brother Christian Cornelis to England by the late 1850s. Pieter married his fiance Anna Petronella in the district of Marlybone, London in March 1857.2 In 1861 Pieter, Anna and their newly born son William Daniel (born in Stratford, Essex) and Pieter's brother Christian are recorded as living at 179 Trinity Terrace, Stratford.3 The Dommersen family were highly artistic, Christian Cornelis also specialised in traditional marine subjects: Zeegezicht in the collection of the Centraal Museum, Utrecht is a particularly outstanding example. Pieter’s son William Daniel grew to be more adventurous in subject matter, becoming well known for his paintings of Dutch canals, waterways and the Italian lakes.4 In 1861, Pieter Dommersen briefly returned to Amsterdam following the death of his mother Cornelia. The death certificate records Pieter Cornelis Dommershausen (signature on the certificate: P.C. Dommershuizen), as son of the deceased aged 27 years old.56 Shortly after this date the family name was changed from Dommershuizen to Dommersen, perhaps for convenience, or in order to sound more Anglicised on receipt of British citizenship.7 By 1895 the family had relocated to 48 Oxford Terrace, Clapham road, London. Pieter Dommersen frequently travelled across Europe on painting tours to The Hague, Rotterdam, Prague and Northern France, evident from a wealth of subject matter. It is also assumed that Pieter worked in Brussels from around 1877 - 1883, ratified by the family’s absence from the 1881 England census. He was frequently accompanied by his brother and son on these tours due to much similarity in their work, as well as shared scenes. In England, Pieter exhibited at the majority of important exhibitions and galleries including the Society of British Artists, Suffolk Street, the British Institution and The Old Bond Street Gallery where in 1871 the The Harbour of Harlingen deemed of sufficient merit to gain a passing mention in the Daily News. 89 More significantly however, Rough water off the Isle of Walcheren, Holland was exhibited in the middle room of the Royal Academy in 1865, and his paintings were regularly selected by the panel until 1878.10 Pieter was also a notable inclusion in The Royal Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland exhibition of 1868 where Still Water – View on the River Yssel, Zuiderzee, Holland was available for purchase to the associations members for the princely sum of £25 (around £1,140 in today’s money).11 Clearly, his work proved a great commercial success appearing in monthly auction sales that were often advertised in local and 2
Marriage in March 1859, recorded in England, Marylebone, Surrey (Pieter Cornelis Dominershuisen) vol.1a p.718. 1861 Census 4 Benizet, E. Dictionnaire Des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs Et Graveurs 5 Recorded as Cornelia Dommershauzen 6 RKD Database 7 Sometimes spelled Dommershuisen, Dommelshuizen, Dommelshijzen and other variations. 8 Graves, A. A Dictionary of Artists 1760-1893 9 Daily News (London, England), Thursday, June 1, 1871; Issue 7828. P.3 10 Exhibition of the Royal Academy (Royal Academy of Arts, 1865) p.14 11 The Belfast News-Letter (Belfast, Ireland), Monday, May 18, 1868; Issue 34145. 3
Timothy Lawrence Williams MA (Hons) national newspapers, with Dommersen’s name featuring as a prominent draw-card. Notable owners and patrons of Dommersen's work included the inventer Hiram Codd and the builder Charles Butters who's extravagant pleasure garden in King's Road, Hackney was captured painstakingly by the artist.121314 In 1891 the Dommersen’s were living at 61 Dacre Road, West Ham, with two further children; a son, Sidney aged 19, who’s profession was surprisingly that of an insurance clerk, and a daughter, Grace aged 7. Evidently, Grace also tried her hand at painting albeit with lesser success, copying Gainsborough’s celebrated Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire in 1908.15 Many sources have stated Pieter Dommersen's death as 1908, however he was still alive, well and painting in 1911 as the years census testifies. Other sources claim Pieter Dommersen’s death as 1928, however this date is likely confused with his brother’s death, known to be the 23rd May 1928 at The Hague.16 Due to the absence of recorded death in the United Kingdom, it appears likely Pieter died on the continent.17 Further mistakes endure with the invention of a Pieter Christian Dommersen born 1865, died 1913 published in many sources and sale catalogues as recently as Christie's Maritime Sale, May 2009. It is likely that this fictional Dommersen has been born out of confusion with the artist and his brother - the birth date assumed from Pieter Cornelis Dommersen's exhibition period as stated in Algernon Graves popular A Dictionary of Artists 1760-1893. Likewise, William Daniel Dommersen has been recorded as William Raymond Dommersen in all secondary and tertiary sources, again likely due to a clerical oversight. De Ruyter's Raid is of an unusually large size for Dommersen who generally worked on a much smaller scale, moreover, it is also a curious subject choice as Dommersen rarely painted battle scenes.18 The painting depicts the battle of the Medway from the second Anglo-Dutch war of 1665-1667, generally considered the greatest Dutch naval victory in history and one of Britain’s most humiliating defeats. We might perhaps consider a reawakening of interest into this defeat in England towards the end of the 19th century as the novel When London Burns (1895) by George Alfred Henty and Rudyard Kipling's poem The Dutch in the Medway (1911) testify. However, this seems unlikey inspiration as the painting predates these literary works by some 15-30 years. A more convincing argument to its inception is perhaps as a commission for a Dutch client, or indeed for the artist's own personal pleasure. The painting functions as a celebratory image of victory for the Dutch and is shown from their perspective. Prior to the battle, the Dutch and English were fighting over trade issues, including 12
Patented the celebrated Codd mineral-water bottle in 1875. For more on Codd see Day, L., McNeil, I., Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology (Routledge, 1996) p.161 13 The Times, Saturday, Jul 16, 1887; pg. 20; Issue 32126; col A 14 Review of Home and Garden: Paintings and Drawings of English, Middle-class, Urban Domestic Spaces-1675 to 1914, exh. Cat. (London: Geffrye Museum, 2003 by Longstaffe-Gowan, T., in Garden History, Vol. 31, No. 1 (The Garden History Society, Spring, 2003) p. 120 15 Catalogued as lot #1619 Grace Dommersen - 19th Century oil on board, Portrait of a Lady, signed and dated 1908 in a sale at Rendells Fine Art Auction 2006 16 Scheen, P.A., Honderd jaren Nederlandsche schilderen teeken-kunst: de romantiek met vooren natijd 1750-1850 (Uitgevers Bureau, 1946) p.80 17 I intend to clarify this at the earliest available opportuity. 18 Out of some two or three hundred paintings, I have only encountered one other that featured a battle ship.
Timothy Lawrence Williams MA (Hons) the trade in slaves and sugar. By early 1667 negotiations were being held, but the Dutch decided to attempt to secure better terms by a surprise attack. Led by Admiral De Ruyter, the Dutch fleet sailed up the Thames and Medway to Chatham. There they burnt many English ships, including the ship Loyal London, depicted in the centre of this painting flying the flag of the City of London. At left, the Dutch have boarded the Royal Charles, the pride of the English fleet. The ship was towed as a prize back to Holland where it was permanently drydocked near Hellovoetsluis as a tourist attraction. Scrapped in 1672, part of her transom bearing the coat of arms with the Lion and Unicorn and the inscription Dieu et mon droit is still on display in the cellar of the Rijksmuseum. Dirk Langendyck, whose original design (we can now consider lost) proved the basis for de Sallieth’s engraving (and thus the kernel of Brighton’s Dommersen) lived and worked in the Netherlands from 1748-1805. It is likely his original was executed in ink or watercolour on paper, a medium that Langendyck preferred, and in accordance with the text on de Sallieth’s engraving.19 As the multi-talented 19th century artist, playwright and historian William Dunlap pointed out, after a period of over 100 year’s peace between the two nations, the subject matter is certainly a propagandist response to the Fourth Anglo Dutch War of 1780-1784.20
Fig 3. Benjamin West The Battle of la Hogue (c.1778) – The National Gallery of Art, Washington Dunlap also observed that Langendyck clearly took formal and compositional inspiration from Benjamin West’s The Battle of la Hogue c.1778 (fig 3.) or one of the many subsequent 18th 19
The text states Getekend door Dk. Langendyk, 1782 – Getekend traditionally meaning drawn or signed. Dunlap, W. History of the rise and progress of the arts of design in the United States (George P. Scott & Co, 1834) 20
Timothy Lawrence Williams MA (Hons) century engravings by William Woolett (fig 4.), Étienne Claude Voysard and Joseph Sebastian Klauber.21 Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1780, West’s painting soon garnered much popularity and critical acclaim, with one London newspaper stating The Battle of La Hogue "exceeds all that ever came from Mr. West's pencil."22 Dr Helumt von Erffa suggested of West’s The Battle of la Hogue that ‘much of the composition is based on a painting by Langendyck. (We thank William Campbell of the National Gallery for discovering this. He is preparing a study of the picture.)’23 This is highly unlikely as West’s painting was certainly in existence by 1778 and could perhaps prove as early as 1784-85, moreover, it is clear from de Sallieth’s engraving that Langendyck’s original design for De Beroemde Onderneming op de Rivieren van London was executed in 1782.24
Fig 4. William Wollett The Battle at la Hogue (1781) – Royal Academy of Art, London 21
Ibid. http://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/gg61/gg61-45885.html 23 Von Erffa, H., Benjamin West at the Height of His Career in American Art Journal Vol. 1, No. 1 (Kennedy Galleries, Inc., Spring, 1969), p.28 24 William Dunlap had studied art under Benjamin West at the Royal Academy close to this time and may have been privy to further information. 22
Timothy Lawrence Williams MA (Hons) As well as Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Pieter Cornelis Dommersen's paintings can today be found in prominent public and private collections worldwide, including the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and the Russel-Coates Art Gallery and Museum, Bornemouth. Bibliography and references: Primary sources: 1911 England census 1901 England census 1891 England census 1861 England census
Books: Benezit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs de tous les temps et de tous les pays (Grund, 1999) Brewington, D.E.R. A Dictionary of Marine Artists (PMSMSN, 1982) Graves, A. A Dictionary of Artists 1760-1893 (Kingsmead, 1969)
Dunlap, W. History of the rise and progress of the arts of design in the United States (George P. Scott & Co, 1834) Day, L., McNeil, I., Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology (Routledge, 1996) Sheen, P.A., Lexicon Nederlandse beeldende kunstenaars, 1750-1880 ('s-Gravenhage, 1981) Sheen, P.A., Honderd jaren Nederlandsche schilderen teeken-kunst: de romantiek met vooren natijd 1750-1850 (Uitgevers-Bureau "Boek en Periodiek," 1946) p.80 Visser, H., Quick-lexicon: Nederlandse beeldende kunstenaars (Servo, 1997) Pfisterer, P., Monogrammlexikon 2: internationales Verzeichnis der Monogramme bildender K端nstler des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts (Walter de Gruyter, 1995) p.899 Journals:
Timothy Lawrence Williams MA (Hons)
Review of Home and Garden: Paintings and Drawings of English, Middle-class, Urban Domestic Spaces-1675 to 1914, exh. Cat. (London: Geffrye Museum, 2003 by LongstaffeGowan, T., in Garden History, Vol. 31, No. 1 (The Garden History Society, Spring, 2003) p. 120 Von Erffa, H. Benjamin West at the Height of His Career in American Art Journal Vol. 1, No. 1 (Kennedy Galleries, Inc., Spring, 1969), p.28 Jaarboek van het Genootschap Amstelodamum, Vol. 77 (J. H. de Bussy., 1972) p.162 Visits to Private Galleries, Art Journal (London, Feb. 1872) p.53 Catalogues: Exhibition of the Royal Academy (Royal Academy of Arts, 1865) Newspapers: The Times, Friday, Apr 11, 1884; pg. 12; Issue 31105; col E The Times, Wednesday, May 06, 1885; pg. 16; Issue 31439; col A The Times, Saturday, Jul 16, 1887; pg. 20; Issue 32126; col A The Times, Tuesday, May 02, 1882; pg. 20; Issue 30496; col A The Times, Friday, Apr 11, 1884; pg. 12; Issue 31105; col E The Times, Wednesday, May 06, 1885; pg. 16; Issue 31439; col A The Belfast News-Letter (Belfast, Ireland), Monday, May 18, 1868; Issue 34145 Daily News (London, England), Thursday, June 1, 1871; Issue 7828. Electronic:
Visual Arts Data Service www.vads.com
Timothy Lawrence Williams MA (Hons)
An article exploring the recently rediscovered painting at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery by the artist Pieter Cornelis Dommersen. It also sh...