As well as being a wonderful maritime painter, Backhuysen was also very skilled in drawing and etching. He produced relatively few works: twenty etchings are known, sixteen of which can certainly be attributed to him.
Recently, we have been able to add to his works a very large early etching, spread over four pages as a test print, to be dated around 1660. The series we have presented – ‘D’Y stroom en Zeegezichten’ (The River Y and Seascapes) from 1701 – were etched by Backhuysen when he was seventy-one years old. The etchings are of high quality, extremely attractive and drawing-like. Was Backhuysen trying, at an advanced age, to prove that he was still as good an etcher as Reinier Nooms, alias Zeeman?
The personification of the city of Amsterdam on a triumphal carriage on the IJ
This etching (no. 3) is the high point of the series. Here Backhuysen focuses attention on the seafaring trading city of Amsterdam. On the left we see the city’s maiden holding the familiar shield with the three St. Andrew’s crosses. The triumphal carriage is drawn by sea horses, and the sea god Neptune stands with his trident behind the enthroned maiden. The tableau is situated on the IJ, the river that contributed to the growth of Amsterdam. In the background we see the National Maritime Stores, the colossal building belonging to the East Indies Company (VOC), which currently houses the wonderful Maritime Museum. On the right we see a great warship, the Amsterdam, recognisable by the city’s coat of arms on its squared stern. It is a well-known vessel that was built in the VOC shipyard in 1688 under the leadership of master shipbuilder Hendrik Cardinaal. Its armament consisted of 64 cannons and it had a crew of no fewer than 350 men!
Maritime business was carried out at the time – as it still is – mainly on the IJ. The wide river, bearing colossal freighters and warships decked out with flags and long pennants with, in among the giants, VOC yachts, various flat-bottomed craft (kaag, boeier and small scow), was one of the masters painter’s favourite subjects.