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Although Bakhuizen was influenced by the work of the great Dutch seascape painter Willem van de Velde the younger, whose work is also displayed nearby, he became more interested in capturing atmospheric conditions than in rendering meticulous and accurate depictions of shipping and figures. Bakhuizen’s seascapes often depict rough seas as it is the case of this late work.

This type of seascape was a favourite amongst wealthy Dutch collectors who view them as symbols of the determined character of the Dutch people, the courage of their sailors, and their dominance in the shipping trade at a time when the Netherlands was the leading maritime superpower.

Details

  • Title: Boats in a Storm
  • Date: 1696
  • Physical Dimensions: w790 x h630 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil
  • Work Nationality: Dutch
  • Support: Canvas
  • Provenance: London, Noel Desenfans, ?1785-1807: ?London, Christie's, Desenfans sale, 14 May 1785, lot 21; London, Christie's, Desenfans private sale, 8ff Apr. 1786, lot 89; London, Desenfans private sale, 8 Jun., 1786, lot 65; London, Christie's, Desenfans sale, 15 Sep. 1786, lot 71; London, Skinner & Dyke, Desenfans sale, 27 Feb. 1795, lot 59; London, Sir Francis Bourgeois, 1807-1811; Bourgeois Bequest, 1811.
  • Inscriptions: LBAKHUZEN [or L.BAKHUZYN]
  • Further Information: "Bakhuizen here depicts an emergency. The 'wijdschip', a large sailing vessel, has been sailing into an estuary in order to gain the harbour, whose presence is signalled by the masts to the extreme right. The strong wind has driven it against the line of stakes, or groin as it is called; men on shore are pulling on a rope to steady her stern; other boats are coming to the assistance of the distressed passengers. The church and burst of blue sky to the right suggests that the scene may have an allegorical meaning concerning man's (or perhaps a nation's) struggle towards salvation. Bakhuizen evolved his manner of marine painting from observing the work of the Van de Veldes. Their departure for England in 1672 allowed him to exploit the lucrative Amsterdam market. This painting, dated 1696, belongs to the last and most polished phase of the Golden Age of Dutch painting. Viewers today tend to be disturbed by the artfulness of the scene. We expect instantaneous actions and the turbulence of Nature to be rendered with a raw, direct, bold and sketchy touch - more like Ruisdael's Waterfall (DPG168) or the storm scenes of Turner. We want to ask, with Shakespeare's Brakenbury, 'Had you such leisure in the time of death/ To gaze upon the secrets of the deep?' (Richard III, Act I, scene IV). This is of course irrational: all paintings depict an instant, whether it is an instant of calm or of catastrophe; all paintings are created out of more or less patient artifice. Bakhuizen allowed his original audience the fascination of contemplating something familiar but impossible to take in when it was actually happening. To do this Bakhuizen subjects chaos to the organising power of art. Every form has a clear outline and shape which could almost be rendered in sculpture. The patterns of the sails, clouds and waves are wild, but also contrived, elegant and rhythmical. Where detail is withheld, as in the distant figures, a clear and simplified block of colour takes its place. The surface of the painting is given an even matt polish. The colour is minutely calibrated, with the most astonishing effect achieved through a narrow range of greys. There is no smudging. Even though to some extent we have to take the artist's word (or brush) for it, this type of artifice can only succeed if based upon observation. The scene must seem probable. In this case the quality of the observation is extraordinary - especially in the translucency of the waves and the fine distinction between depths of grey cloud-bank to the top left."
  • Artist: Bakhuizen, Ludolf
  • Acquisition Method: Bourgeois, Sir Peter Francis (Bequest, 1811)

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