Andries van Eertvelt

A fleet of galleys at sea; a coast beyond

Andries van Eertvelt was born in Antwerp in 1590; he was baptized in the cathedral. Little is known about his youth or training. As van Eertvelt copied works by the marine painters Hendrick Vroom and Jan Porcellis, both of whom were active in the Northern Netherlands, it has been assumed by some that he was trained in the Northern Netherlands (possibly Haarlem), although this has not yet been definitively proven. At age 19 he joined the Antwerp guild of St Luke. In 1615 he married Catharina de Vlieger. Van Eertvelt taught several students, including Caspar van Eyck and Matthieu van Plattenberg (both marine painters). Van Eertvelt is considered one of the first Flemish marine painters; sources also mention a few landscapes and biblical subjects by his hand, none of which are known today.

At first, Van Eertvelt produced mainly for the market, supplying dealers such as Chrisostomo van Immerseel and Marie de Fourmestraux with so-called ‘waterverfdoecken’: large decorative works painted on thin linnen, destined for export to Seville and the New World. Market demands also dictated his style: his works are painted quickly and vigorously, with strong lines and no underdrawing. In 1628 he went to Genoa, where he stayed with Cornelis de Wael, a Flemish painter who was well-connected there and acted as a middleman between local patrons and the compatriots who visited him, including – besides van Eertvelt – Anthony van Dyck and Vincent Malo. (The latter also sometimes painted the figures on van Eertvelt’s compositions.) Apparently van Eertvelt did well for himself there: the Italian chronicler Raffaello Sopriani mentions a certain ‘Andrea Alfelt’ whose large paintings fetched very high prices.

In 1630 van Eertvelt returned to Antwerp, where he was able to build on his earlier successes. The painter enjoyed a near-monopoly on the genre of marine painting in Antwerp: together with the brothers Gillis and Bonaventura Peeters, who established their workshop in Antwerp in 1633, he was one of the very few Flemish exponents of the genre. (This has been explained by the fact that the Antwerp harbour lost much of its lustre in the late 16th and early 17th century.) Inventories of the time show his works steadily entering higher-middle and upper-class collections. In 1632, his portrait was painted by van Dyck (today it is kept in Augsburg); a year later, he remarried, his first wife having died in 1626. In 1649 records show him renting a large and expensive house on the Oever. Andries van Eertvelt died a wealthy man in 1652.

The present work may be considered a beautiful example of van Eertvelt’s work: painted on an oak panel, it shows a fleet of galleys before a coastline. No particular battle or ship formation is being recorded here; instead, the painter is just showing off his skill in rendering the many details of the ships and their crew and the ebb and flow of the water. It is clearly a piece made for the market, but probably not for export: works on panel, especially when the panel consisted of several planks, did not transport as well as works on canvas or copper. This relatively large work was most likely made for the local market in Antwerp, destined to adorn the walls of the town house of a well-off citizen. As the panel is stamped on the back with the marks of the Antwerp guild of panel makers, attesting to the panel’s fine quality, there can be no doubt that the painting was executed in Antwerp, probably sometime in the 1630’s.

Artist: Andries van Eertvelt (Antwerp 1590 - 1652)
Medium: oil on oak panel
Dimensions: 45 x 70 cm