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Water, Wind, and Waves: Marine Paintings from the Dutch Golden Age
July 1 – November 25, 2018
West Building, Main Floor

Ludolf Backhuysen, Ships in Distress off a Rocky Coast, 1667, oil on canvas, overall: 114.3 x 167.3 cm (45 x 65 7/8 in.) framed: 147.3 x 146.1 x 6.4 cm (58 x 57 1/2 x 2 1/2 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

The Dutch rose to greatness from the riches of the sea. During the seventeenth century they became leaders in marine travel, transport, commerce, and security as their massive cargo carriers and warships traversed oceans and their small vessels and fishing boats navigated inland and coastal waterways. Water was central to their economic and naval successes, but was also a source of pleasure and enjoyment. In the warm summer months, dune-covered beaches offered scenic vistas, while in the winter, frozen canals provided a place for people of all ages to skate, play, and enjoy the outdoors.

In a nation of sailors and skaters, it is no wonder that marine subjects became a favorite of seventeenth-century collectors and artists alike. Some painters, among them Jan van Goyen and Jacob van Ruisdael, delighted in capturing the marine environs in and around the Dutch coast. Others, such as Hendrick Avercamp, turned their attention to the activity of frozen canals on a wintry day. Many artists also depicted the open seas. Hendrick Vroom, Willem van de Velde the Elder, and Willem van de Velde the Younger, who often sailed the seas themselves, rendered every imaginable vessel, from fishing boats and major transport ships to the great warships of the Dutch naval fleet, each formulating his compositions with extraordinary accuracy and attention to detail. At the same time, they also introduced atmospheric light effects and various weather conditions to bring life and drama to their scenes.

This exhibition explores the deep, multifaceted relationship the Dutch had with the water, including their gratitude for the sea’s bounty and their fear of its sometimes destructive power. Drawn largely from the Gallery’s own collection, the exhibition features nearly 50 paintings, prints, drawings, rare books, and ship models. From quiet harbor scenes and frozen canals to fierce naval battles pitting Dutch crews against their Spanish foes, the range of images reveals the extraordinary impact the water had on art of the Dutch Golden Age.

Organization: Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Sponsors: The exhibition is generously supported by the Hata Foundation. Additional support is provided by The Exhibition Circle of the National Gallery of Art.

Passes: Admission is always free and passes are not required