Heerman Witmont, 'A sea-scape with threemasters off a rocky coast'

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The Netherlands
Second half 17th century
Oil on panel
H. Witmont, lower right
53 cm
65 cm

D. Freedberg, A. Burnstock & A. Phenix, ‘Paintings or prints? Experiens Sillemans and the origins of the grisaille sea-piece; notes on a rediscovered technique’ in Print Quarterly, vol. 1:3, 1984, p. 153, 154.

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This detailed pen painting on panel, by Heerman Witmont (Delft ca. 1602 - 1684), depicts five ships in turbulent waters. The three-masters are battered by waves and strong winds. On the left-hand side of the composition, a rocky coast can be seen. On the stern of the nearest three-master are two standing lions holding a coat of arms. A floating beam in the bottom right bears Witmont's signature.

Witmont's monochrome paintings show many similarities to the work of Willem van de Velde the Elder (1611 - 1693). Both painters were pioneers in using pen and ink to paint on panels prepared with gesso. It is not known exactly who was the first to specialise in this detailed technique; it may well be that Witmont, and his colleague Experiens Sillemans, experimented with it before Willem van Velde the Elder. The use of pen and ink enabled the maker to paint with great detail and delicacy.

 Little is known about the life of Heerman Witmont. He was born c. 1602, and throughout his life was active mainly in Amsterdam, The Hague and Delft, where he became a member of the Guild of St Luke in 1644. He was buried in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft on 10 February 1684.   


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