The Model of a Screw Steamship from the Studio of Marine Painter Eduard van Heemskerck van Beest
The Rijksmuseum has a number of nineteenth-century ship models once owned by the former naval officer and marine painter Jacob Eduard van Heemskerck van Beest (1828-1894). One of them, a model of the earliest generation of screw steamships with sails, a hybrid of a traditional sailing ship and a steamship, has recently been restored. During the restoration it was found to have the generic characteristics of a screw steamship, but a specific identification of function (navy or merchant navy) was not possible because of the lack of details. There are, though, strong indications that it must have been a sailing toy model. Given the presence of a drive shaft to the screw, grease stains (lubrication?) and a removable funnel, it seems that there was once a little steam engine in the empty cavity gouged out of the block from which the model was made. The model also has a lead keel, which gave this toy the stability it needed. In a normal ship model, the keel would have been made of wood. The fact that the painter Eduard van Heemskerck, who himself had spent a short time in the navy, was interested in ship models is obvious. It seems likely that the models played a role in his studio in creating a maritime setting: as inspiration, as examples for his work and to put potential buyers of his paintings in the right mood. However, it is less likely that they formed part of Van Heemskerck’s carefully put together collection of seventeenth-century furniture, decorative pieces, paintings and two room panels that he sold to the forerunner of the Rijksmuseum in 1877. The nineteenth-century dating and undistinguished quality of the ship models mean that they are out of place in the collection acquired at that time.
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