On a wide river, a richly decorated mirror yacht sets sail under full sail for the city in the background. On board we see several people on board, crewmembers and possibly a few passengers. In the middle of the river a large three-master is ready for departure and the many moored ships show that the city is an important port. In the foreground, cattle are grazing in a meadow adjacent to the river and a trio of people are listening intently to a standing gentleman pointing his walking stick at the mirror yacht.
A colourful and lively painting in which Backuysen shows his ability. There is much to see: a river, ships, cattle and the silhouette of a city. But which city the Amsterdam-based painter had depicted remained an unanswered question for a long time. When we first saw the painting, we were able to determine from an etching Backhuysen made in 1701 that it was Emden . The broadly fanning flag on the stern of the yacht shows the town colours: 2x yellow, red and blue, separated by a white centre stripe in which Backhuysen placed his signature. A close look reveals the town’s coat of arms on the yacht’s transom.
Emden, situated on the river Ems in East Friesland (Germany) was an important port city in Backhuysen’s time, where Dutch merchants had also settled since the 16th century. This had to do with the Eighty Years’ War, when the Spaniards had imposed a blockade on our seaports. The city was even under Dutch protectorate from 1602 to 1744! So the typical Dutch yacht could well have been the representative means of transport of a wealthy merchant? Is he perhaps the genteelly dressed gentleman on the left of the painting? If so, he could also have been the commissioner!
Our painting is dated 1698, Backhuysen is then 68 years old; by the standards of that time he is already an old man and undoubtedly, his thoughts went back to his hometown when he made this painting.
Ludolf Backhuysen was a celebrated and productive artist. His surviving oeuvre consists, besides a few portraits and landscapes, of mainly sea-river- and harbour views on which all kinds of ships can be seen. These ships are correct in every detail, not a flaw can be detected, and even the complicated rigging is depicted with the utmost accuracy. Backhuysen observed everything very closely! Perhaps he himself owned a boat, which he used to sail on the IJ in order to take a closer look at the ships, or was it the boyer he depicted in a number of paintings?
But whatever the case, the pleasure of viewing his paintings is the most important thing: Backhuysen’s ships are “right” in the water, they “really” sail. The figures that populate the harbours and ships “live” and the silhouettes of the depicted cities correspond to reality. That Ludolf Backhuysen excelled not only as a gifted painter but also as a draughtsman, etcher and calligrapher makes him one of the greatest visual artists of the last quarter of the 17th century.