Ships in a Stormy Sea

Circle of Ludolf Backhuysen Dutch

Not on view

Strong winds pitch several ships on the storm-tossed swells, so characteristic of the North Sea. To the right of the composition, clearer skies are a harbinger of calmer waters. The artist brilliantly captured the shifting light of a tempestuous sky and the coiling waters in gray wash. This seascape has been attributed to Ludolf Backhuysen, and could be recognized as an example of his romantic, mature style. Some stylistic features that are uncharacteristic for Backhuysen’s late work have caused questions to be raised about the drawing’s authorship. It is unusual for the artist, for example, to use an underdrawing in pen and brown ink in his renderings of the sea. The cautious application of washes, most noticeable in the rendering of tumultuous water, are equally uncommon.

Backhuysen was one of the leading late-seventeenth-century marine painters in Holland, and his highly finished drawings were sought-after by collectors. It is therefore not remarkable that followers or workshop assistants hoped to benefit from this popularity by producing similar imagery.

According to the artist-biographer Arnold Houbraken (1660–1719), Bakhuysen’ earliest endeavors as a draftsman date to 1650. The artist was strongly influenced by the works of father and son Willem van de Velde (1611–1693 and 1633–1707 respectively), the leading painters of seascapes at the time. When the Van de Velde’s immigrated to England around 1672, Bakhuysen became the foremost painter in this genre.

Ships in a Stormy Sea, Circle of Ludolf Backhuysen (Dutch, Emden 1630–1708 Amsterdam), Pen and brown ink, with gray wash, over black chalk

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