The critical appreciation of the work of the seventeenth-century painter Ludolf Bakhuizen has undergone some considerable ups and downs. In his own day, and up to the second half of the nineteenth century, Bakhuizen was considered to be the best marine painter in Holland next to Willem van de Velde the Younger, and his paintings were in great demand. Around the 1850s his fame began to wane, until finally he even came to be despised for his dramatic rendering of shipwrecks and storms, the very subjects he had been most renowned for in his day. In the last ten or twenty years the tide has again turned in Bakhuizen’s favour and his work is once more getting the attention it deserves.
Very little is known about Bakhuizen’s early years. Born in the German town of Emden in 1631, he moved to Amsterdam with his family in 1650. Here he started his career as an apprentice to the famous merchant firm of Bartolotti. He also taught calligraphy to the sons of rich merchants — an art form in which he was particularly proficient. It was not very long before he bade the firm farewell to concentrate solely on art, in particular the drawing of ships.
As a draughtsman, and later as a painter, Bakhuizen seems to have been largely self—taught. The grisailles (or pen—paintings as they are usually called in Dutch) he made in the 1650s show the influence of Willem van de Velde the Elder, but we do not know for certain if Bakhuizen was ever his pupil. Impressed with his talent a number of artists pressed him to take up painting in oils. Bakhuizen apparently made a habit of visiting painters’ studios regularly, where he learned by looking carefully and asking questions. Most of the time thus spent was in the studios of Allaert van Everdingen and Hendrick Dubbels, though he stayed with neither long enough to suggest that he was a regular pupil of theirs. Although Bakhuizen’s earliest painting is dated 1658, it was not until February 1663 that he was admitted to the painters’ guild of St Luke.
His reputation as a marine painter must have grown rapidly, for in 1665 the Burgomasters of Amsterdam commissioned him to paint a large view of the harbour of Amsterdam as a gift for Hugues de Lionne, minister of Louis XIV of France. By the standards of the day Bakhuizen was very well paid, receiving 1275 florins and a gold ducat for his wife. The fact that he was awarded this important commission proves that he was rated as highly as Willem van de Velde the Younger, who was still working in Amsterdam at the time. The painting is now in the Louvre in Paris.