Men-o-War in Action: English Ship and Barbary Pirate Vessels

  • About the work
    Country: Other
    City: storage

    In this mid-17th century marine painting a man-o-war, flying the George’s Cross, is obscured by canon smoke. Her tattered sails hang loosely in the faint breeze. Before the ship a battle plays out as an English crew and Barbary pirates aim firearms at each other. To the right of the composition, another ship explodes into flames and thick, black smoke rises into the air.

    A similar scene is depicted in a work sold through Christie’s, London, in 2008, representing ‘An Action between an English Ship and Vessels of the Barbary Corsairs’, which is attributed to the ‘studio of Willem van de Velde the younger’. These works probably do not refer to a specific incident, but illustrate a common hazard for British ships at the time. Barbary pirates were the scourge of the Mediterranean during the 17th and 18th centuries. Not only were ships taken but crew members were seized and forced into slavery. Operating from fortified fortresses, located along the coast of North Africa, the pirates acted with little fear of reprisal until Lord Exmouth, commander of the Mediterranean Fleet, led the bombardment of Algiers on 27 August 1816.

  • About the artist
    Willem van de Velde II, marine painter, was the son of Dutch marine painter Willem van de Velde I. He was born in Leyden and studied first under his father and then under another marine painter, Simon de Vlieger. He began hid career in the early 1650s, when living in Amsterdam and his best works date from his Dutch period. By 1672 he had settled in England and in 1674 both he and his father were in the service of Charles II. There are many examples of the work of both father and son at the National Maritime Museum and in other public collections in the UK and they cannot always be distinguished. Although neither father nor son learned the English language, their influence on English maritime painting lasted until the time of Turner.
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  • Details
    Men-o-War in Action: English Ship and Barbary Pirate Vessels
    Oil on canvas
    height: 30.00 cm, width: 50.00 cm
    Purchased from the Executors of Sir Bruce Ingram, 1963
    Collection of journalist and newspaper editor Sir Bruce Stirling Ingram (1877-1963) and on loan to the Ministry of Works from 1952; from whom purchased by the Ministry of Works in 1963
    GAC number