Adrian van Diest, marine painter (1655-1704)
The battle of Barfleur, May 19th, 1692
Oil on canvas
75 x 63 cm
The painting depicts the naval battle at Cap Barfleur at the beginning of the Nine Years‘ War between England and France. Louis XIV and his naval secretary, Count Louis Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain, were planning an invasion of England to restore the deposed Catholic King James II to the British throne. Louis XIV had ordered his admiral, Tourville, to seek battle regardless of the balance of power („fort ou faible“), which he did. The outnumbered French fleet suffered defeat.
The picture shows an English two-decker with its guns firing broadside. In the dark foreground, clear evidence of a destroyed ship is depicted: a fully-crewed dinghy and a pinnace with yard and sails rising out of the water, with sailors clinging to it.
The painter of this picture, Adriaen van Diest, was born in The Hague in 1655. At the age of 17 he emigrated to England, because in the Netherlands there was no support for artists – a consequence of the unfavorable course of the war with France for Holland. Although England was also at war with Holland, the English King Charles II had invited Dutch craftsmen and artists to settle in England. This was an attractive proposition, especially for marine painters, since the market for marine pieces was flourishing in England and could not be satisfied by local artists: There was not yet an English school of marine painting. It is believed that he worked in London in the studio of the famous family of artists and marine painters Van de Velde. Van Diest’s views of seaports and coastal landscapes were highly regarded during his lifetime.
The artist’s patronage by the English crown is also evident in this painting, as Van Diest illustrates here the striking power of the English fleet. The work was intended to appeal to the tastes of the local public, which is why this should not be considered a historically accurate document: thus, although we see a sinking ship in the foreground here, in fact no ship was lost in this battle on either side.