Frans Hals Museum buys an exceptional work by Jan Porcellis

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Frans Hals Museum buys an exceptional work by Jan Porcellis
Jan Porcellis, Ships in a Storm, c. 1618/22, oil on panel, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem.

HAARLEM.- On Wednesday 4 October, Haarlem’s mayor Jos Wienen unveiled the museum’s latest purchase in the Frans Hals Museum. It is the painting Ships in a Storm, an exceptional, early and well-preserved seascape by Jan Porcellis dating from around 1618/1622. Porcellis brought about a revolution in painting seascapes – precisely in his Haarlem period. ‘This unique acquisition bolsters the story of Haarlem as the centre of artistic innovation at the beginning of the Golden Age, where huge changes took place in painting,’ said Ann Demeester, director of the Frans Hals Museum | De Hallen Haarlem. Top-quality works by Jan Porcellis are very rare and hardly ever come on to the market. The painting was purchased for € 800,000 with the support of the Mr. Cornelis Roozen Fund Foundation, the Mondrian Fund and the Rembrandt Society – thanks in part to its Daan Cevat Fund and its Coleminks Fund.

Jan Porcellis
Jan Porcellis (Ghent, 1584 – 1632) was one of the most celebrated marine painters in the seventeenth century. In 1622, after an unsettled existence, he came to Haarlem, where according to the artists’ biographer, Arnold Houbraken, he had previously been apprenticed to the marine painter Hendrik Vroom. Vroom was known for his impressive, colourful scenes full of anecdotal details. Porcellis, by contrast, introduced context: he showed ships in convincing perspective in relation to one another and blended his colours to produce a persuasive spatial effect. He conveyed the forces of nature in subtle shades of brown and grey, from silvery white to ominous dark. Other marine painters followed, and despite Porcellis’s relatively short stay in the city (until 1624) his reputation and fame soared in Haarlem. The city’s historian, Samuel Ampzing, praised Porcellis in his 1628 book as ‘the greatest artist of ships' in Haarlem. In 1678 the painter and biographer Samuel van Hoogstraten called him ‘the great Raphael of marine painting’.

Ships in a Storm
The two most distinguished Porcellis specialists, Dr John Walsh and Dr Gerlinde de Beer, identify Ships in a Storm as an autograph, top-quality, well-preserved work by the artist. De Beer specifically notes that this was the first time Porcellis had placed two ships in the water at an angle, one behind the other, with convincing perspective – an invention that would garner a huge following. John Walsh added, ‘It was in Haarlem that Porcellis began to paint seascapes with truly convincing effects of weather and atmosphere. Shipwrecks, like this especially fine one – bleak and violent in sea and sky – gave his audience shivers, and plenty to think about: fortunes were made in ships like these, but some went on the rocks, helpless in the grip of God's power.’

Frans Hals Museum
Until now the Frans Hals Museum had no works by Porcellis despite his obvious connection with Haarlem and his enormous importance to Dutch art in general. Ships in a Storm fills this gap splendidly. The museum has three masterpieces by his possible teacher, Hendrick Vroom. Other major Haarlem marine painters like Van Wieringen and Verbeeck are also very well represented in the collection. The fundamental innovation brought about by Porcellis – precisely in his Haarlem period – is evident in Ships in a Storm. The painting is a pivotal work in the collection. Porcellis’s impact is clearly reflected in seascapes by Allaert van Everdingen, who was a passionate collector of Porcellis’s works (he owned no fewer than thirteen of his paintings) and the work of Pieter Mulier.

Addition to the Netherlands Collection
Porcellis’s oeuvre is relatively small; at present we know of sixty or so paintings and some thirty drawings by him, as well as a set of etchings to his design. In the Netherlands Collection only four museums have paintings by Porcellis: The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, the Lakenhal in Leiden and the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Porcellis’s works in these museums all date from around 1630. Ships in a Storm, which the Frans Hals Museum | De Hallen Haarlem can now add to its collection, can be dated to around a decade before that, making it a significantly earlier pivotal date in Dutch painting. Good works by Jan Porcellis are very rare and hardly ever come on to the market. A unique opportunity arose to return this work – which was painted on a magnificent panel and is in exceptionally good condition – to the Netherlands Art Collection after decades in a private collection, and thus make it available to the public. The purchase of Porcellis’s Ships in a Storm means that the Frans Hals Museum | De Hallen Haarlem can tell the story of Haarlem as the centre of many of the artistic innovations that took place in the Golden Age on a grand scale. The museum is therefore particularly proud, grateful and delighted that this work could be acquired for the City of Haarlem’s collection and added to the Netherlands Collection through contributions from private individuals and government funds.

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