Overview

The three cargo ships in this large painting are the type of wide-bellied, seagoing vessels used to transport much of the commodities that generated the wealth of the Dutch in the seventeenth century. Flying the red, white, and blue flag of the Dutch Republic, these floating symbols of national prosperity are nevertheless in peril of crashing on the rocky shore. Each ship has already lost a mast, and flotsam bobbing in the steely gray water in the foreground reveals that at least one ship has been wrecked. All is not yet lost, as the sun’s golden rays break through the ominous clouds—a signal to the struggling sailors that the storm is about to abate. The subject serves as a reminder that our earthly existence is fleeting. Although realistic in appearance, the painting combines elements that Backhuysen repeated often in his theatrical compositions. The complex shapes, sharp contrasts of light and shadow, ragged rocks, and violent waves all heighten the drama. The palpable tension of the scene belies the fact that this painting is the first known representation of a full-blown tempest in Backhuysen’s oeuvre.

A native of Germany, Backhuysen was trained by his father to be a scribe. In 1649 he moved to Amsterdam, where his beautiful calligraphy landed him a job as a clerk for one of the city’s most prominent merchants. His excellent draftsmanship led him to get trained as a painter, and success followed quickly. Backhuysen had a particular fascination with the effect of weather on the surface of the sea, which he depicted with great skill. He became Holland’s leading seascape artist during the last quarter of the seventeenth century, producing marine paintings for royal and noble patrons throughout Europe.

Inscription

lower center on rock: LBackh / 1667

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Arthur George, 3rd earl of Onslow [1777-1870], Richmond, and Clandon Park, near Guilford, Surrey;[1] his heirs; (his estate sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 22 July 1893, no. 24); (J.W. Vokins).[2] Siméon del Monte, Brussels, by 1928;[3] sold by his heirs at (sale, Sotheby's, London, 24 June 1959, no. 22); purchased by (P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London); (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 19 April 1985, no. 111); purchased by NGA.

Exhibition History

1932
Tentoonstelling van schilderijen door oud-hollandsche en vlaamsche meesters, Koninklijke Kunstzaal Kleykamp, The Hague, 1932, no. 41.
1990
Mirror of Empire: Dutch Marine Art of the Seventeenth Century, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts; The Toledo Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1990-1991, no. 4.
2005
Time and Transformation in Dutch Seventeenth Century Art, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie; The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota; The Speed Art Museum, Louisville, 2005-2006, no. 34, repro.

Bibliography

1928
Glück, Gustav. La Collection del Monte. Vienna, 1928: 22, pl. 41.
1986
Goedde, Lawrence Otto. "Convention, Realism, and the Interpretation of Dutch and Flemish Tempest Painting." Simiolus 16 (1986): 142.
1986
Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Washington and Grand Rapids, 1986: 306.
1989
Goedde, Lawrence Otto. Tempest and Shipwreck in Dutch and Flemish Art: Convention, Rhetoric, and Interpretation. University Park, PA, 1989: 177, 202-204, fig. 161.
1990
Keyes, George S. Mirror of Empire: Dutch Marine Art of the Seventeenth Century. Exh. cat. Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Toledo Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Cambridge, England, 1990: 88-89, no. 4.
1991
Walsh, John, Jr. "Review: Los Angeles—Dutch Marine Art." The Burlington Magazine 133 (September 1991): 645–646, repro.
1995
Slive, Seymour, and Jakob Rosenberg. Dutch painting 1600-1800. Pelican History of Art. Revised and expanded ed. New Haven, 1995: 223-224, repro.
1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 15-18, color repro. 17.
2002
Beer, Gerlinde de. Ludolf Backhuysen (1630 - 1708): sein Leben und Werk. Zwolle, 2002: 69, no. 26, pl. 71.
2003
Wilson-Bareau, Juliet, and David C. Degener. Manet and the sea. Exh. cat. Art Institute of Chicago; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Philadelphia, 2003: 9, fig. 8.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 189, no. 151, color repro.
2005
Kuretsky, Susan Donahue. Time and Tansformation in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art. Exh. cat. Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota; J.B. Speed Art Museum, Louisville. Seattle, 2005: 76, 178-179, no. 34, repro.

Conservation Notes

The painting has been lined with the tacking margins trimmed. No reduction of the picture plane has occurred. A cream-colored ground, which covers the fine-weight, plain-woven support, is visible through the thinly applied paint. Thin, fluid, opaque paint layers are blended wet-into-wet with minimally impasted highlights and finely drawn paint lines in the rigging. The paint condition is excellent, with losses confined to the paint edges and only minor abrasion. Discolored varnish and inpainting were removed when the painting was treated in 1985.

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