In the 17th century the northern provinces of the Netherlands federated into the Dutch Republic, which rose to become a major economic and military power at sea. In the realm of the arts, these developments were reflected by the emergence of a new genre: marine painting. To this day, the often dramatic seascapes created in this period evoke a sense of freedom and adventure. In 17-century Netherlands, the sea was indeed a pervasive factor in the life of the country’s inhabitants. This explains why marine painting is not confined to the depiction of majestic ships ploughing through stormy seas or taking each other on in epic battles, but also encompasses quiet scenes of everyday activities on the shore.

By focusing on marine paintings, Under Full Sail deepens another topic of the Dutch Golden Age that had not yet been addressed by the opening exhibition at Villa Vauban, The Golden Age Reloaded. To this effect, it gathers a series of works by the main representatives of the genre, among whom Ludolf Backhuysen, Jan Porcellis, Willem van de Velde (the Elder and the Younger) and Simon de Vlieger. A collection of drawings and engravings by leading marine painters of the time as well as so-called ‘penschilderijen’, or pen drawings on wood or canvas, round off this extensive survey.

While the works in this exhibition distinguish themselves by outstanding craftsmanship and minute details, the events they represent are by no means historically accurate in terms of chronology, topography, weather conditions etc. Rather, they allow for a wide range of interpretations and readings, the ship becoming a metaphor of life, a symbol of the State, a signifier of the conquest of distant shores or the emblem of the young Republic’s proud commercial and foreign politics.

Within the exhibition, specially devised ‘signposts’ attract the viewer’s attention to relevant or interesting details in the paintings while highlighting their main characteristics.

As part of the museum’s educational programmes, a specially designed room aims to familiarise young visitors with the maritime world. In a playful design, including nautical instruments, a bunk, knots and a cord-making machine, children and adolescents discover life onboard a ship and get a chance to gain first-hand experience of the different naval ranks from sailor to admiral.  

Under Full Sail brings together more than 80 masterpieces from international private and institutional collections (Hamburger Kunsthalle, National Maritime Museum in Greenwich/London, Staatliches Museum Schwerin, Kunsthalle Bremen a.o.).

The exhibition is documented through a fully illustrated catalogue, available from bookshops and at the museum.

Concept of the exhibition: Prof. Dr. Martina Sitt, Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Kassel, Germany


10 December > 28 March 2011