Help with dating an old (I think!) oil maritime painting

Discussion in 'Art' started by PortableTreasures, Apr 30, 2019.

  1. PortableTreasures

    PortableTreasures Active Member

    Hello everyone--thanks in advance for whatever ideas or suggestions you can send my way about this painting I bought on eBay in the U.S. (for all of $10--including shipping!). It's approximately 38cm/15inches long and 30cm/12.5inches wide. It's painted on what looks like heavy dark green canvas (or perhaps even a light oil cloth...?). I've never seen this type of backing used for an oil painting before. It's never been on a proper stretcher, but instead seems as thought it was original wrapped around a board and pinned in place. It came to me just as a flat-packed canvas. The seller didn't know anything about it and had seriously considering just throwing it in the bin. He suggested it might be Dutch, or at least the depiction of a Dutch ship, but the flag looks to be upside down to me if it's meant to be a Dutch flag. there is no signature anywhere and it very much looks to me like amateur/naive art. It feels and looks old though--you know that sense you get when you look at something and think, "Hmmm, that's gotta be old," but I might well be wrong. The paint is oil-based and somewhat thickly applied in places (and flaking off in others). The composition seems to be a popular one--big sailing ship in the middle ground or background and a rowboat in the foreground and typically off to the righthand corner, just as it is in this one (e.g., It definitely doesn't look like a Chinese knockoff though (it's too roughly done, for example).

    I absolutely love this painting--the chaps on the sailing ship make me laugh every time I look at them (and imagine what they're saying). What I'd love your help with is any suggestions re a possible date for when it was painted and country of origin/country of ship depicted IMG_6050 copy.jpg IMG_6054 copy.jpg IMG_6051 copy.jpg IMG_6055 copy.jpg IMG_6056 copy.jpg IMG_6057 copy.jpg .

    IMG_6050 copy.jpg
    i need help likes this.
  2. Dawnno

    Dawnno Well-Known Member

    pics of back might be helpful too. Agree: delightful primitive painting.

    [Edit: I see now it was removed from stretchers, so no frame, just canvas.]
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2019
    i need help likes this.
  3. Dawnno

    Dawnno Well-Known Member

    Here are some possibilities:

    this flag fits the right period - I looked to see what countries use the colors, but others were either too early or late for the style of the painting, or landlocked. This possibility fits several criteria: sea faring, european style vessel and period of use of both. Vessel is likely a cargo vessel, and fits the bill of a topsail cargo "smack" which has a shorter rear mast, but mostly no topsails or square rigging, or a "trow", each consistent with the 'inland coastal' use around the North Sea and between UK and mainland Europe. Sloops appear in the background. The below painting shows a similar "smack" from a UK artist/maritime museum flying red,white,blue (dutch) with blue pennant.
    William Daniel Penny (1834–1924)
    Hull Maritime Museum
    The problem with your painting is the blue appears to be on top (paint stroke goes all way up the mast to top). So could be S-H of Prussia.

    All the sailors wearing a uniform of blue (no surprise there) and since everyone is wearing it seems to be a crew. Might be a 'lead' to follow but not a likely a particularly helpful one.

    Then there's the red inner jib and blue sails, not sure what significance that holds, other than, red jibs are not uncommon (in fact the Wikipedia article on smack shows one with all red sails), and maybe a bit of artistic license.

    Dark green canvas: leave that one to somebody else to snoop out. Wouldn't be surprised if its a maritime canvas scrap.

    My initial guess is primitive, northern European, turn of the 20th C.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2019
    i need help and Rayo56 like this.
  4. PortableTreasures

    PortableTreasures Active Member

    Yes, Dawno--just the canvas and no stretchers/frame. Just read your comment about the canvas being a maritime scrap and that's very much what it looks and feels to be.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2019
    i need help likes this.
  5. PortableTreasures

    PortableTreasures Active Member

    Dawno--your response re the flag and other incredible details is just fantastic! I've been Googling this painting for about 2 years now and just couldn't get anywhere with it. I believe you're bang on with Schleswig-Holstein (thanks so much!) and I so appreciate all the details you've included about what kind of ship it was. I'd looked into schooners etc., but it clearly wasn't them. And who knew that red jobs are a thing--I just put the coloured sails down to artistic licence. Fantastic--I love my painting even more now because it's just so interesting! Thanks so much!
    i need help and Dawnno like this.
  6. Dawnno

    Dawnno Well-Known Member

    I'm sure there's more to be sleuthed:

    "The typical, rusty-red colour of the flax sails was due to the dressing used to treat the sails that were permanently aloft (traditionally made from red ochre, cod oil, urine and seawater). The red ochre was there to block the ultra-violet in the sunlight from degrading the sails (much as lamp-black was used in the sail dressing for the Norfolk wherries), but sails that were stowed away such as jibsails were usually left untreated." This one isn't really 'ochre' though, so it might just be artistic license.

    I'm guessing the white uniform is the officer and the blue the crew. General type stuff, but it might add up. Also they all wear blue caps.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2019
    i need help likes this.
  7. i need help

    i need help Moderator Moderator

  8. PortableTreasures

    PortableTreasures Active Member

    Dawno--your details re the red sail are fascinating! And "i need help" seems to have really opened up a new mystery! Off to get the canvas back out again to see if that is a scratched in signature or not!!!
    i need help likes this.
  9. PortableTreasures

    PortableTreasures Active Member

    Okay, I've looked at "in need help's" ringed anomaly and it turns out it's just where the paint has cracked a little. It so looks like it might've been writing, though! Buuut, now that I've looked all over the canvas with a magnifying glass, it does kind of seem like there's something scratched into the reflection of the buoy in the bottom right-hand corner. I need to find where I've put my stronger magnifying glass for this one! It never occurred to me to look over the painting with a magnifying glass, so I appreciate your eagle eyes, "i need help"!
    i need help likes this.
  10. Dawnno

    Dawnno Well-Known Member

    I know... that magic marker streak appeared outta nowhere!
  11. i need help

    i need help Moderator Moderator

    :hilarious: That’s my crayon! :hilarious:
    Jivvy likes this.
  12. Jivvy

    Jivvy the research is my favorite

    I came "this close" to asking where the heck that spot was in the painting and then I realized what was going on. :hilarious:
  13. Dawnno

    Dawnno Well-Known Member

    this thread has me really intrigued: I had to find out about the red and blue sails...
    so, this painting has two boats, each with red and blue, likely, sails, or maybe, a flag?, over the side.
    then you see in the next one more fish sales going on with blue and red flags flying...

    I'm finding this curiouser and curiouser, b/c I suspect it has something to do with letting everyone know you are available to sell your catch... something like that.

    And this painting shows the blue/white/red flag in Liverpool...

    and this painting has both versions of the flag in it... attributed to "dutch school"

    Note the red jibs again. Jibs are commonly used without mainsails to navigate, so they do get more use. so, this is just a theory, maybe the blue sail was used to 'come into port with the catch' and it combined with the usual red only.

    A 1614 English account illustrates the efficiency and profitability of the Dutch herring business:

    “ The Hollanders do make both a profitable and a pleasant trade of this Summer fishing... and so they did set sail for the North seas ... where ... they had soon filled their Buss [ship] with herrings; and a Herring-Yager cometh unto them, and brings them gold and fresh supplies and copeth [bargaineth] with them, and taketh in their herrings for ready money, and delivereth them more barrels and salt; and away goeth the Yager for the first market into Sprucia [Prussia]. And still is the Buss fishing at sea, and soon after again was full laden and boone [bound] home: but then another Yager cometh unto him as did the former, and delivering them more provision of barrels, salt, and ready money, and bids them farewell. And ... they sailed home into Holland ... the Buss laden with herrings, and a thousand pounds of ready money"

    Then I find this:
    "An old tradition of misuse of the Netherlands red-white-blue flag has come to an end this year.[1966] When in the first days of May every year the fishermen had brought back from the North Sea the fresh salt herring -- "Dutch New Mates" -- for almost two centuries one could buy this sea-banquet in Western Europe at stands and shops decorated and indicated by a little Netherlands flag. Too often these flags were shown day and night; and of course there was opposition because of the impropriety of using a national symbol for commercial purposes. The Foundation for Vexillology and Heraldry at Muidenberg every year tried to get the stands to stop using the national flag. Finally success has been met. Beginning in February 1966 the governmental organization for the promotion of fish-selling in the Netherlands has sanctioned a new flag for herring shops and stands."

    That's the story I think the painting is telling (row boats with barrels of salt (?) coming to the ship, and money) and so, maybe the painting is English of a vessel from a different port of call, e.g. Prussian bringing Atlantic herring, or a traditional misuse of the Dutch flag... maybe they flew them upside down to sell their catch? And any other combination of red and blue took hold to say "Fish for Sale."

    Just a theory. talk to a Dutch fish merchant historian.

    So cool.
    i need help likes this.
  14. PortableTreasures

    PortableTreasures Active Member

    Dawnno--this write-up is absolutely incredible and I feel guilty about the hours of work that must've gone into all these fantastic details! I have learned such a good lesson today about following up on all details--and not dismissing things like red and blue sails simply because I'd never seen them for myself. They are so central to the story of my painting, like you say. I really love your analysis that this is "Fish for Sale" painting--perhaps Prussian or Dutch--and might even have been painted in an English port!! And you've even got excellent evidence of the fish itself most likely being herring! This really is brilliant and I can't thank you enough--not just for your work, but for showing me how to go about researching something more fully!
    Dawnno likes this.
  15. Dawnno

    Dawnno Well-Known Member

    my pleasure, literally. As I said, I got absorbed in it for the fun of it.
    Jivvy and PortableTreasures like this.
  16. Susan Duval

    Susan Duval New Member

    Hi Portable Treasures and Dawno, this is fascinating, because just this week I noticed a painting at a friends house by her great uncle, the well-known artist, EH Suydam, dated 1919. He normally did pencil drawings in NYC, Washington DC and Louisiana. I said "that looks SO familiar!" I took a photo and went home, where I compared it to a painting by my dad, engineer EJ Speca, which he did in 1940 at the age of 14 in Rochester, NY. Sure looks like the same ship as EH Suydam's and yours!! The mystery deepens. I also cannot find this painting by any of the grand masters or anyone in the past, which would mean they reproduced it. Perhaps it appeared in a "learn to paint" book back in the day?

    Attached Files:

  17. PortableTreasures

    PortableTreasures Active Member

    Oh Susan!! What an incredible coincidence!! Too much of a coincidence given how very similar they are, right? Can't thank you enough for taking the time to photograph the two paintings and posting them here. I absolutely think you're onto something with referencing a "learn to paint" book. i'm off to do more sleuthing right now (the dates you've given me are so helpful!).
  18. Susan Duval

    Susan Duval New Member

    I can't wait to see what you come up with!!! It will be fascinating to find out! Thanks so much for your response!!
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page