(b. 1630, Emden, d. 1708, Amsterdam)

Ships in Distress off a Rocky Coast

Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Backhuysen is the last representative of the great tradition of Dutch marine painting; eighteenth-century Dutch artists did much less of consequence in this category than in the others they practised.

Backhuysen was born in Emden, Germany, and came to Amsterdam around the middle of the century where he remained for the rest of his life. His high-placed patrons include the burgomasters of Amsterdam, the Archduke of Tuscany, Czar Peter the Great, and various German princes. He is best known for his stormy scenes. Houbraken writes that when a storm threatened he sometime went by boat 'to the mouth of the Sea, in order to observe the crash of the Seawater under these conditions'.

His Ships in Distress off a Rocky Coast shows the chilling drama he can bring to the theme. The large cargo ship in the centre is managing to make way along the perilous coast, while on the right, two vessels are in even greater danger.

Later his storms become melodramatic, his chiaroscuro effects exaggerated, and his gigantic waves rather schematic and glass-like.