ca. 1630 Emden - 1708 Amsterdam
Canvas, 51,5 x 70 cm
Ludolf Backhuizen, or Backhuysen, was born in 1630 in Emden, Germany. There is not much known about his youth but in 1649 he departed to Amsterdam and worked there as an accountant and calligrapher in the trading company of Guillemo Bartolotti. In 1663 he joined the St. Lucas gild in Amsterdam. Before becoming a member of the guild he sold his paintings to to the city´s upper class patronage to whom he was introduced by Bartolotti, who was an eminent and well respected businessman in Amsterdam. His teachers were the landscape artist Allart van Everdingen as well as the marine painter Hendrik Dubbels, two prominent masters of the time, and soon Backhuizen was celebrated for his extraordinary talent. Next to the van de Veldes, who left to England around 1672, Backhuizen was undoubtedly the leading marine painter of the Netherlands. His work includes naval studies and history pieces, especially from the Dutch and English wars, as well as anonymous marines. He remained his whole life in Amsterdam, until his death in 1708. With his precise drawings and atmospheric paintings, Backhuizen shaped the maritime art in the second half of the 17th century like no other painter.
Among other artists such as Wilhelm van de Velde the Elder and the Younger and Abraham Storck, Backhuizen stands out with his motive of restless, rough seas, as his main interest is to depict the movement within the painting. Pieces like English Royal Yachts at Sea in a Strong Breeze by Willem van de Velde the Younger (fig. 1) show a certain resemblance but are not quite comparable as the van de Veldes specialized in more tranquil seascapes.
Our marine painting shows a dramatic scene – ships in heavy sea. The white crest of the waves and the dark sky with thunderclouds underline the theatrical atmosphere. The darkness of the sea in the foreground is contrasted to the light which illuminates the water and the stern of the bark in the center of the painting. The tension of this composition is based on movement and contrasts and engages the viewer’s eye with its fine colour gradation and sharp lines.
These grey and blue tones in transparent paint application can be found not only in this masterpiece, but also in other paintings by Backhuizen such as Turbulent sea with ships (fig. 2) and A Dutch flagship with a yacht under her stern (fig. 3) painted between and 1694 and 1697. These paintings show resemblance in their composition
and are painted in the same manner and typical colour palette of Backhuizen. With the dark foreground, the light in the middle zone and the grey hazy horizon with ships, there can be found a certain resemblance to our particular marine painting by Backhuizen.
In 1665 the city of Amsterdam designated him as the painter for a view of Amsterdam, which was supposed to be a present for the state secretary of Ludwig ⅩⅣ and in 1705 Backhuizen became director of the Kunstkamer (the chamber of art) in Amsterdam.
His work is most relevant in the development of Dutch marine paintings in the second half of the 17th century. Backhuysen´s paintings from the early 60´s became a guideline for subsequent marine art and had great success in the golden age of the Netherlands and can be found in various art collections until today.
Paintings in Museums and Public Collections:
The National Gallery, London
Royal Castle, Warsaw
Private Collection Italy
de Beer, Gerlinde, Ludolf Backhuysen (1630-1708) Sein Leben und Werk, Waanders, Zwolle, 2002.
Habersatter, Thomas, Schiff voraus Marinemalerei des 14.-19. Jahrhunderts, Residenzgalerie Salzburg, 2005.
Sutton, Peter C., Loughman, John, The golden age of dutch landscape painting, Fundacion Coleccion Thyssen-Bornemisza, 1995.
fig. 1.: Willem van de Velde the Younger
English Royal Yachts at Sea in a Strong Breeze, c. 1689
Oil on canvas, 54,6 x 71,7 cm
Yale Center of British Art
fig. 2.:Ludolf Backhuizen,
Turbulent sea with ships, 1697
Oil on canvas, 31,5cm × 39cm
A Dutch flagship with a yacht under her stern, 1694
Oil on canvas, 55,8 x 76,2 cm
National Maritime Museum, London