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Willem van de Velde the Elder, ca. 1611–1693, Dutch, active in Britain (from 1672)
Celebration on the Thames near Whitehall
Pen and brown ink, graphite, and gray wash on two joined sheets of medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper
Sheet: 11 1/8 x 17 3/8 inches (28.3 x 44.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
Note: As a COVID-19 precaution, the Study Room is closed until further notice.
Curatorial Comment:
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The coronation of James II took place on 23 April 1685. Owing to “the wearisomeness that the Fatigue of those Glorious Processions and stately Ceremonies of the Coronations had bred in their Majesties,” the fireworks display planned for that evening had to be postponed until the next day, when “between five and six [o'clock] London seem’d to have disembogued and emptied its Inhabitants into the Boats and on the Shoars of the Thames” (Lowman, 1685, p. 1). This drawing is part of a series of four views showing the crowds of spectators gathering on the river and the decorated pontoon stationed opposite Whitehall Palace from which the fireworks were launched. The first view (now in the collection of the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam) is inscribed “No. 1” and looks upstream; the third and fourth views (both numbered, in the Boymans-van Beuningen and National Maritime Museum, respectively) look downstream from a position farther upriver. In this drawing the dimensions, the cropping of the vessels on the far right, and the direction in which the oarsmen are rowing suggest that it was originally the left-hand panel of the second view (now in the collection of the National Maritime Museum), which is taken from directly opposite the pontoon, perhaps from Whitehall itself. “Celebration on the Thames” demonstrates not only van de Velde’s expertise in drawing various types of vessels, including ceremonial barges, wherries, and East India Company vessels (identifiable by their striped flags), but also his persuasiveness in depicting the human figure in miniature.
--Eleanor Hughes,2007-01
Exhibition History:
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Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Royal Academy of Arts, 2007-10-20 - 2008-01-27)

Spreading Canvas - Eighteenth - Century British Marine Painting (Yale Center for British Art, 2016-09-09 - 2016-12-04)

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John Baskett, Paul Mellon's legacy, a passion for British art : masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 244, no. 8, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Eleanor Hughes, Spreading Canvas : Eighteenth-Century British Marine Painting, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2016, p. 139-140, Endpapers, cat. 3, ND 1373.G74 S67 2016 (YCBA)

R. Lowman, An exact narrative and description of the wonderfull and stupendious fire-works in honour of Their Majesties coronations, and for the high entertainment of Their Majesties, the nobility, and City of London, made on the Thames, and perform'd to the admiration and amazement of the spectators, on April the 24, 1685 , N. Thompson, London, 1685, p. 1, Available online in Orbis

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