A Shipwreck

Philip James de Loutherbourgcirca 1770

Spencer Museum of Art

Spencer Museum of Art

In this painting, nothing is staid. A surging wave bends and breaks in the center of the painting, almost as if it were a hand reaching out to scoop the shipwrecked men from the tenuous safety of a rocky outcrop. The struggle between humankind and nature assumes a religious overtone when we recognize the gesture of the man in the center, who grips his hands above his head in a desperate prayer for salvation. Dramatic shipwreck scenes like this one helped de Loutherbourg establish his career in France, but he is best remembered as one of the fathers of English stage design. His career-long fascination with the theatrical potential of light, motion, and catastrophe were realized on an extreme scale in 1781, when he built the Eidophusikon: a painting in four dimensions that incorporated mechanically rotating sets, varied lighting, smoke, and musical accompaniment to emulate shipwrecks and other natural spectacles.

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  • Title: A Shipwreck
  • Creator: Philip James de Loutherbourg
  • Date Created: circa 1770
  • Physical Dimensions: Canvas/Support Dimensions: 59 x 82.5 cm, Canvas/Support Dimensions: 23 1/4 x 32 1/2 in
  • Type: paintings
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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