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Art Diary

Visions of Naval Might: A Marine Painting for the Great Elector

2 December 2022

A newly restored work by the little-known Dutch marine painter Olfert de Vrij (1635-99), Three-Master on Lightly Moving Sea (1665), forms the centrepiece of this exhibition at the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin (until 16 April 2023). The painting is one of few works attributed to de Vrij, who worked as a lawyer in the city of Hoorn in North Holland and is believed to have pursued art as a hobby. Despite his limited output, he has been described as one of the most technically skilled naval painters of the 17th century, with particular aptitude for works in grisaille. Following re-colouration treatment, his Three-Master demonstrates the painter’s unique talent for fine brushwork in his delicate depiction of two merchant ships, both of which bear the coat of arms of the Elector of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia, Frederick William (1620–88) who is thought to have commissioned the painting. Additional works from the collections at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin reveal the Frederick William’s obsession with establishing Brandenburg as a naval force, including a series of naval drawings and the atmospheric painting The Brandenburg Naval Fleet (1684) by the Dutch Golden Age painter Lieve Verschuier. Find out more on the Gemäldegalerie’s website.

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The Brandenburg Naval Fleet (1684), Lieve Verschuier. Photo: © Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation Berlin/Brandenburg, Oranienburg Palace

Three-master on a slightly rough sea (detail; 1665), Olfert de Vrij, photographed before restoration. Photo: © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie