A Ship Wrecked on a Shore on a Stormy Night, with Survivors Salvaging Their Goods

Ludolf Backhuysen Dutch

Not on view

This highly finished drawing depicts a dramatic scene. A merchant ship has run aground on the North-Sea shores in tempestuous weather. The top mast has given way to the forces of the wind and the remaining sails are fluttering wildly. Their movement is echoed by the mantle of the man, standing on an elevation to the left foreground. People are coming to the rescue of both the sailors and their wares. The ominous subject matter is reinforced by the dramatic lighting of the beach and high waves in the middle ground, which are contrasted by the stormy skies and the densely rendered foreground.

This intricate composition dates from the last years of Ludolf Backhuysen’s career; a time at which his works are characterized by a predilection for romantic scenes, full of drama and suspense.

A preliminary sketch in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam shows that already in its preparatory phase, Backhuysen had in mind the strong chiaroscuro contrasts and the repoussoir in the foreground; compositional devices help draw the beholder’s attention to the tragedy on the shoreline.[1] In its final version, depicted here, the artist reinforced these effects by adding figures in the foreground that point towards the shipwreck.

Bakhuysen excelled in the subtle application of washes, through which he was able to obtain a great variety of tones, perfect for creating illusionary light effects. Note for example the reflections of the cart wheels and figures in the wet sand in the left background, or the froth on the breaking waves.

A highly finished drawing like this was regarded an independent artwork, and was intended for an audience of avid collectors of Bakhuysen’s pictures.

[1] Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. RP-T-1968-47(R). Cf. G. de Beer, Ludolf Bakchuysen (1630–1708). Sein Leben und Werk, Zwolle: Waanders Uitgevers, 2002, cat, no. Z 41, fig. 213.

A Ship Wrecked on a Shore on a Stormy Night, with Survivors Salvaging Their Goods, Ludolf Backhuysen (Dutch, Emden 1630–1708 Amsterdam), Brush and gray and black wash, over a sketch in black chalk

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