LUDOLF BACKHUYSEN

Emden 1630 – 1708 Amsterdam

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee

Oil on canvas, 119.5 x 174.5 cm

Signed (bottom left, on the boat): L. Bakhuizen

Dated: 1704 on a piece of driftwood

Origin:

Joan Frederick Motte; sale, Quickhart, Amsterdam, August 20, 1794, lot 2 (unsold 290 florins). santhagen; sale De Vries, Amsterdam, April 4, 1754, lot 2 (unsold 2,800 florins). Meffre; sales [Dr. van Cleef et al], Pillet, April 4, 1864, lot 4 (unsold, 11,900 francs). Charles August Louis, Joseph, Duc de Morney; sale, Pillet, Paris, May 31, 1865, lot 38 (sold 2,150 francs). Sale London, Christies, July 7, 2000, lot 9, (146,750 pounds sterling). Rob Noortman & Salomon Lilian, The Netherlands, private collection.

 

Literature:

  1. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalog Raisonné , etc., VII, London, 1923, p.215 no. 9. Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Tiberia: A Masterpiece.

 

Described by Hofstede de Groot as ‘a masterpiece’, this painting used to be part of the distinguished collection of Charles-Auguste, Duc de Morny (1811-1865). He was the natural son of Hortense de Beauharnais and Charles-Joseph, Comte de Flahault, and thus the half-brother of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, later Emperor Napoleon III. Raised by his grandmother, Mrs. de Souza, he acquired his love of art from her collection, which included works by Titian, Adriaen van Ostade and Carlo Dolci. He started collecting at an early age and in 1854, when he was appointed president of the Corps Législatif by the Emperor, his collection was housed in his official residence, the Høtel de Lassay. Among the most famous of his many masterpieces were Fragonard’s The Swing and Le Chiffre d’amour ; Boucher’s Rape of Europe ; Watteau’s Rendezvous de chasse (all London, Wallace Collection); Rembrandt’s Rape of Europe (New York, private collection); and De Gilder [Portrait of Herman Doomer (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art). A smaller painting with the same subject, dated 1692, which used to be in Anthony de Rothschild’s collection, has been included by Hofstede, op. cit. no. 6.

Calm and confident, Christ sits among his anxious disciples in a boat nearly engulfed by waves. Though the weather threatens – sooty clouds predict torrential rain and the fierce winds tear the rigging of the sail – sunbeams at the top left foreshadow Christ’s command to calm the waves. With this simple yet dramatic composition, Backhuysen illustrates the power of faith.

Backhuysen was one of the most important painters of seascapes at the end of the 17th century. His earliest biographer reported that when a storm loomed, he often went out to sea to observe the changing weather conditions.

Ludolf Backhuysen was the most important painter of seascapes in Amsterdam in the last quarter of the 17th century. His earliest biographer stated that he was “taught by nature” and reported that he often went out to sea during a looming storm to observe the varying conditions of air and water.

 

LUDOLF BACKHUYSEN,

EXCELLENT SEA PAINTER

 

Backhuysen is considered to be one of the most important marine painters of the seventeenth century from about 1660 onwards, he was also an excellent draftsman and etcher.

Very little is known about Backhuysen’s childhood. Born in Emden, Germany in 1631, he moved to Amsterdam in 1649. The well-educated Backhuysen started his career as an apprentice (bookkeeper and calligrapher) at the well-known merchant firm Bartolotti. With his knowledge of geometry, astronomy and navigation, Bartlotti benefited greatly from him. Backhuysen also taught calligraphy to the sons of wealthy merchants – an art form in which he was particularly adept. His skill as a calligrapher laid the foundation for a successful career. Houbraken (1660-1719), Backhuysen’s biographer at the beginning of the eighteenth century, notes that his efforts were soon rewarded. In the marriage register of August 30, 1657, the date of his first marriage to Lysbeth Lubbers, his occupation is listed as ‘tyckenaer’ (drafter). His drawings fetched 10, 20, 30 and eventually guilders each, which heightened his enthusiasm for the work. It was not long before he left the firm to devote himself exclusively to art, especially to drawing ships.

 

As a draftsman, and later as a painter, Bakhuysen 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 influences from Willem van de Velde the Elder (1611 – 1693), but we are not sure if Bakhuysen was ever his pupil.

Impressed by his talent, he was pressured by a number of artists to start painting with oil paint. Backhuysen apparently made it a habit to regularly visit the studios of painters, where he learned to look carefully and to ask questions. He spent most of his time in the studios of Allaert van Everdingen (1621-1675) and Hendrick Dubbels (1621-1707), although neither of them stayed long enough to give the impression that he was a regular student of theirs. Although Backhuysen’s earliest painting is dated 1658, he was not admitted to the painters’ guild of Saint Luke until February 1663.

His reputation as a marine painter must have grown quickly, because in 1665 the mayors of Amsterdam commissioned him to paint a large harbor view of Amsterdam as a gift for Hugues de Lionne, minister of Louis XIV of France. By the standards of his time Backhuysen was very well paid, he received 1,275 florins and a gold ducat for his wife. The fact that he was awarded this important commission proves that he was regarded as highly regarded as Willem van de Velde de Jonge (1633-1707), who was still working in Amsterdam at the time. The painting is now in the Louvre in Paris.

From the beginning his paintings sold very well and after the Van de Veldes moved to London in 1672 he became the most important marine painter in Holland. In all likelihood, the rivalry between the Van de Veldes and Backhuysen influenced their decision to go to London. Backhuysen’s distinguished background and his marriages contribute to increasing his fortune and ability to attract a wealthy clientele. The Van de Veldes, on the other hand, came from a different social class and were plagued by intrigue, infidelity, and so on.

According to Arnold Houbraken, his fame as an artist was widespread, and his international clientele included the Grand Duke of Tuscany, the King of Prussia, the Elector of Saxony and several other German monarchs. Tsar Peter the Great of Russia also seems to have been a great admirer of his work. Backhuysen’s career as a painter flourished without interruption until his death in 1708.

He was a prolific master and it is not without awe that Houbraken tells us: ‘If it were possible to see all the works of art in one room, one would be amazed at his zeal’. About six hundred paintings have come down to us. However, this number has to be adjusted, because it is based on an outdated 1918 catalog by Hofstede de Groot.

His subjects range from sea and river capes to showpieces based on historical fact or fantasy often with a staffage of colorfully dressed people on board the ships or in the foreground, and the storms and shipwrecks for which he was famous. He painted very few naval battles. In addition to navies, he made a number of portraits and now and then an allegory or cityscape. In addition to oil paintings, he left behind drawings and engravings.

An ardent naturalist, he often exposed himself to the sea in an open boat to study the effects of storms. His numerous compositions are almost all variations on one subject, the sea, and in a style that is his own, characterized by intense realism or faithful imitation.

Although Backhuysen is historically less accurate than the Van de Veldes, there is nothing wrong with the way he depicts the ships. His paintings show that he also understood the different ship types, and they lie convincingly in the water. Sails and rigging are shown flawlessly. You only have to look at the work of lesser marine painters to realize how difficult it is to portray this subject realistically and convincingly.

However, Backhuysens’ artistry was not limited to technical mastery. Artistically he was also on a par with the best, and his greatest works – of which there are quite a few – harmoniously combine an atmospheric quality, a wonderfully bright color scheme and a happy composition, and are on par with Willem’s best paintings. van de Velde the Younger.

As with almost any successful painter, the high demand for his paintings inevitably led to the occasional loss of quality and crept into the routine. Especially from the 1680s, Backhuysen produced a number of less inspired, but very skilled paintings. Yet many works remain that fully justify his reputation as one of the finest marine painters the Netherlands has ever known, as can be seen in some of the great museums of the world, such as the Rijksmuseum and the Amsterdam Museum in Amsterdam, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, the National Gallery in London and the Louvre in Paris.

As an artist of a superior level, Backhuysen had a considerable influence on his contemporaries and later generations. Some Van de Veldes from the 1670s have sometimes been mistaken for Backhuysens. He had a great influence on a group of marine painters such as Jan Claesz Rietschoof, Michiel Maddersteg, Jan Theunisz Blanckerhof, Aernout Smit, Wigerius Vitringa.

Although he is not known as his pupil, Abraham Storck (1644 -1708) was also influenced by Backhuysen. There are certain similarities in their work that are too obvious to be a result of chance. Later generations of marine painters, such as JC Schotel (1787 – 1838), still turned to Backhuysen for inspiration. JC Schotel’s drawings are still often wrongly attributed to Backhuysen. Even the much-praised Nicolaas Baur in his day was strongly influenced by the painter around 1800.

LUDOLF BACKHUYSEN

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