Item #5000772 [Aankomst van de schepen van Abel Tasman in Nieuw-Zeeland: The arrival of Abel Tasman's Ships in New Zealand]. TASMAN, Everhardus KOSTER.
[Aankomst van de schepen van Abel Tasman in Nieuw-Zeeland: The arrival of Abel Tasman's Ships in New Zealand].
[Aankomst van de schepen van Abel Tasman in Nieuw-Zeeland: The arrival of Abel Tasman's Ships in New Zealand].
[Aankomst van de schepen van Abel Tasman in Nieuw-Zeeland: The arrival of Abel Tasman's Ships in New Zealand].

[The arrival of Abel Tasman's Ships in New Zealand]…
[Aankomst van de schepen van Abel Tasman in Nieuw-Zeeland: The arrival of Abel Tasman's Ships in New Zealand].

Amsterdam: late 1850s.

Oil on canvas, 720 x 560 mm, signed lower left; in a very good original oak frame.

A superb Golden Age depiction of Tasman's violent first encounter in New Zealand

A beautiful and vivid painting of one of the most dramatic and far-reaching moments of Tasman's first voyage of 1642. This striking work in oil depicts Tasman's two ships the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen anchored at what is now known to have been Golden Bay, on the northwest coast of the South Island of New Zealand.

A beautiful and vivid painting of one of the most dramatic and far-reaching moments of Tasman's first voyage of 1642. This striking work in oil depicts Tasman's two ships the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen anchored at what is now known to have been Golden Bay, on the northwest coast of the South Island of New Zealand.

The artist's mastery of composition and use of a suffused golden light means that it takes a moment to comprehend the sudden violence of the confrontation taking place in the foreground, but the eye is irresistibly drawn to a Māori warrior brandishing his club near the prow of the ornately carved canoes and the Dutch sailors in the boat recoiling in alarm.

The painting is therefore a rendition of one of the turning points not only of Tasman's voyage, but of the whole Dutch project. Subsequently, Tasman's reports to the VOC on the difficult conditions prevailing in Tasmanian and New Zealand waters, as well as his later comments on the arid coasts of northwest Australia, were largely responsible for the final collapse of Dutch interest in settling Van Diemens Land, New Zealand or New Holland.

Everhardus Koster

The painting is by Everhardus Koster (1817-1892), a superb Dutch maritime artist who specialised in grand historical scenes, perhaps most famously his gigantic oil painting of William III reviewing the Dutch Fleet (V&A). Koster trained under van Hove before settling in Amsterdam where he had a long career as both a painter and museum curator, notably at the Museum of Modern Art, Haarlem.

Koster, at the height of his powers, has executed this painting with the sort of attention to detail which must have come from a careful study of the history of Tasman's voyages, most obviously in terms of his fine rendering of not only the brightwork on the stern of the commander's ship at the centre, but also the ornamentation and particularly the headdresses of the Māori warriors: the latter details confirm that Koster took a more than passing interest in the ethnographic tradition of works relating to New Zealand.

Koster's sources and accuracy

Moreover, given both Koster's style of working and the accurately historical composition of the work itself, it is likely that he had some knowledge of the original sketches of the voyage artist Isaack Gilsemans (c.1606-1646), especially as he has shown Tasman's flagship in three-quarter rear view and the other in profile, much like Gilsemans had originally done. There are also hints of one of the earliest and most important published views of New Zealand, the scene depicting 'De Moordenaars Baay' as engraved by Ottens for Valentijn's important voyage anthology, the Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien (1724-1726).

Whatever his precise influences, few artists could be better equipped to render such a scene than Koster, who took particular care to render Dutch vessels in the strictest historical accuracy and is known to have researched his subjects in minute detail. This combination also meant that the work was the ideal original on which to base a separately-issued steel engraving by the Dutch artisan Johannes Heinrich Rennefeld (1832-1877). Why Rennefeld chose to render Koster's quite large original in a curiously modest format is unknown, but the engraving confirms that the painting was originally in the collection of the Amsterdam-based artists' society, the Arti et Amicitiae, and that although untitled it was known as 'Aankomst van de schepen van Abel Tasman in Nieuw-Zeeland' (Rijks Museum).

This emphasis on historical accuracy is particularly important because Koster was working at a time before the late-century reinvigoration of interest in the glory days of the VOC that was taking place in Holland. Indeed, his work was at the vanguard of the popular revival in the study of Tasman's voyages, most famously with the renewed study of the Tasman Map acquired by Prince Roland Bonaparte in 1891 (now well-known from its reproduction on the floor of the vestibule of the SLNSW) and the modern scholarly edition of Tasman's journal published by Heeres in 1898.

Abel Tasman's voyages

Koster's interest in the golden age of the Dutch Navy must have made the voyages of Tasman a natural subject for him. Abel Tasman (c.1603-1659) made two major voyages to Australasia on behalf of his paymasters in the VOC. The first of 1642 piggy-backed the Brouwer Route across the lower Indian Ocean but, unlike most of his fellows, Tasman then stayed deep in the Roaring Forties to sail clear across the southern coast of Australia, first sighting land on the west coast of Tasmania. In rough seas Tasman worked around to the more sheltered eastern shore, but even so the conditions meant that he was unable to make any serious investigations ashore.

After just over a week of sailing within sight of Tasmania, which he named in honour of his patron Anthony van Diemen, he yielded to the prevailing winds and pushed across the ditch to New Zealand, coasting much of the western coast before heading out into the Pacific and home to Batavia. On his second major voyage, two years later in 1644, Tasman made his lesser-known but equally important survey of northwest Australia from the western reaches of Torres Strait (which his charts still suggested was impassable) to the waters near Exmouth.

The events at Murderers (now Golden) Bay

While the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen were at anchor on 18 December 1642, Tasman had sent watering parties ashore, but due to a conflict the exact nature of which is still debated – most likely relating to the local tribe's jealously-guarded sweet potato gardens and cultural misunderstandings – one of the boats was attacked by warriors in a double-hulled canoe who came out to meet the Dutch sailors: in the ensuing fight four of the Dutch were killed. Following the shocking conflict, Tasman named the location 'Moordenaars' (Murderers) Bay.

The important portfolio of images from the voyage done nearer the time by Gilsemans includes a now famous depiction of the scene with, in the foreground, a double-hulled canoe with one man standing in the prow. In the remote middle-ground of Gilsemans's scene the small boat is seen being attacked. Koster, less beholden to the rules of naval topographical drawing, has kept the basic shape of the two main ships, which here dominate his background, but transferred all of the action into the foreground. His is therefore the first depiction of the scene to truly picture the human dimensions of the actual fighting.

Certainly, this use of foregrounding in the painting shows Koster's immersion in the milieu of voyage artists, not least in the way that the drama and action of his depiction harks back to similar scenes in the work of Cook's artists William Hodges RA or John Webber RA, or to contemporaries like John Wilson Carmichael or Harden S. Melville, who executed Torres Strait scenes in a noticeably similar vein.

Dating

Dating Koster's paintings exactly is difficult, although it is known that his grand-format works date from before 1859, when he lost sight in his right eye with consequent lifelong complications. Significantly, Koster's association with the Arti et Amicatiae society – who at one time owned this painting – dated to 1858 or before. The engraved version of the Tasman image by Rennefeld is also undated, although it is traditionally given a date of composition of c.1865-1870. The style of the painting and Koster's connection with the art society both suggest he painted the present work in the late 1850s.

Provenance: Collection of the Historical Gallery of Society Arti et Amicitiae (the Dutch artists' society founded in 1839); Johan Willem Naudin ten Cate (1895-1950), of the prominent Dutch family, whose members included shipowners active in the Dutch East Indies; Christie's, Amsterdam, 24 Sept 2002 (miscatalogued as an African scene); private Dutch collection.

Heeres, Abel Janszoon Tasman's Journal (1898); NLA (online); RKD Artists (online); Salmond, Two Worlds (1991); Sharp, The Voyages of Abel Janszoon Tasman (1969); SLNSW catalogue (online); Stade, 'The First Meeting' (2020); V&A (online).

Price (AUD): $118,000.00

US$76,070.87   Other currencies

Ref: #5000772