Born in England in 1779 and reared in Philadelphia, Thomas Birch was America's first marine artist. Initially trained as an engraver and then as a portrait painter, he made a fortuitous visit in 1807 to the Delaware Cape where his interest in marine painting began. Influenced by the marine seascapes of seventeenth century Dutch artists and the stormy seascapes of the French painter Claude-Joseph Vernet, Birch later made his reputation with a series of paintings depicting American naval victories of the War of 1812. Patriotism combined with the drama of the sea made such paintings popular.
Although Birch also is noted for his winter landscapes, he is best known for his seascapes, whether dramatic renderings of storms at sea or ships wrecked and breaking on the rocks along the short. Following the romantic tradition of the clash between man and nature, Birch conceived of the wild power of the sea as a pitiless elemental force beyond the control of man.