Ludolf Backhuysen started his career as a calligrapher and draughtsman and only took up painting in the late fifties of the seventeenth century. As a painter, Backhuysen seems to have been largely self-taught. He used to visit other painters’ studios regularly and learned by looking and questioning. His fellow-artists were impressed with his talent and encouraged him to press on. Backhuysen’s earliest painting is dated 1658, but he wasn’t admitted to the painters’ guild of St Luke until February 1663.
His reputation grew rapidly and in 1665 he got an important commission from the Burgomasters of Amsterdam for a large view of the harbour of Amsterdam as a gift to Hugues de Lionne, minister of Louis XIV of France. This shows that his work was rated as highly as that of Willem van de Velde the Younger, who was still working in Amsterdam at the time. As an artist of superior standing, Backhuysen had considerable influence on his contemporaries and also on later generations of marine painters, such as J.C. Schotel and J.H. and H. Koekoek.