Freeman's
Rare Dutch ship model of the whaler The Ijsbeer  circa 1650, Estimate $8,000-12,000

Department Specialist


Published: 14 May 2015

A Model of Seafaring Power | Rare Dutch Ship Model Comes to Auction

Freeman's is pleased to offer a rare Dutch ship model of the whaler "The Ijsbeer, " crafted circa 1650 in our upcoming auction English & Continental Furniture & Decorative Arts.

During the 17th century the Dutch were considered the dominant sea-faring power in Europe. At the heart of this expansion of Dutch political and economic power was their ability to develop the tools needed to navigate the new waters demanded by trade and industry. DevelopmentsDutch ship model of the whaler The Ijsbeer, circa 1650     in cartography played an important role and from 1600 Amsterdam was widely regarded as a center of map production. The activities of the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C) in charting and mapping the new seas and coasts where they traded contributed greatly to the expansion of knowledge, as did the mapping of the Southern Sky by the explorer Pieter Keyser. The success of the Dutch as a maritime nation also stemmed from their position as leaders of the ship building industry. They produced ships more efficiently and cheaply than their competitors and introduced new varieties of designs that better suited ships to their purpose. As a result, Dutch vessels would be widely used by countries throughout the United Provinces and Europe during this period.

As the shipping industry continued to expand, the creation and use of ship models became increasingly prominent. Builders used scale models to work out technical details, and sometimes, in the case of models of war ships, to work on strategy. These models were so highly valued for the technical details they held, that in 1687 the diarist Samuel Pepys recorded a notable incident during the Dutch raid of the Royal Dockyard at Chatham wherein the commissioner Peter Pett was recorded as saving his English ship models from pillage, later remarking that the models would have been of greater use to the Dutch than the actual ships themselves. Models were used for civic purposes as well, and the creation of votive models is of particular note. Hung in the churches of harbour towns, these ships were created by shipbuilders and seaman hoping for safe passage and were often modeled on real ships used at the time. Their display acted as a public reminder of both the perils and prosperity afforded by trade at sea. Though rare today, such models can still be found in museums, most notably the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. A notable example of a votive model of a Dutch East Indiaman ship is included in the National Maritime Musuem in Greenwich. Made around 1657, this model of a Dutch ship exhibits features typical of ships of its period as well as a wavy waterline painted around the hull typical of models from this time.

An example of a model from the same period will be included in Freeman’s 19 May auction English & Continental Furniture & Decorative Arts. Dated to approximately 1650, “The Ijsbeer”, or White Bear, is a model of a Dutch whaling vessel. Like the model in Greenwich, the Ijsbeer is painted with a wavy waterline below the hull. It’s design- the vibrantly painted hull with orange details, the original flags and the carving of a lion to its prow- are typically Dutch and appropriate to the period. Very rare to find at auction or for sale privately, this ship was once included in the collection of the Enthoven family, prominent antique dealers in the Netherlands whose clients in the 19th century included the Royal Dutch Family. The Enthoven collection, including this model,  was sold at auction by F. Muller & Co. of Amsterdam in 1932 where the piece was acquired by William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951), the famed American publishing and media magnate. Hearst acquired the ship through his company the International Studio Arts Corporation, subsidiary he established to oversee the holdings and cataloguing of the fine art and antique collections he developed through the 1920s and 30s. This model is included as item 18 in volume 46 of his archives. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, portions of the William Randolph Collection including this model were famously sold through the New York City department store Gimbel Bros. where it was likely acquired by the present owner’s grandfather.

This lot sold for $12,500 at the 19 May 2015 auction English & Continental Furniture & Decorative Arts

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