Ludolf Backhuyzen, A Princely Painter

Seascapes by Ludolf Backhuyzen are to be found throughout Europe, in museums and in royal collections in palaces and castles, often the highlight of any display of marines. Backhuyzen’s work was already much appreciated in leading circles in his own lifetime. According to the 18th-century biographer Arnold Houbraken, his paintings were much in vogue among foreign rulers. Grand Duke Cosimo de’Medici of Tuscany, King Frederick I of Prussia, the Elector of Saxony and various other German princes visited the artist at his studio on Herengracht to select in person from the paintings he had made.

Backhuyzen enjoyed a remarkable relationship with Tsar Peter the Great. When the Russian ruler visited the Low Countries in 1697/1698 to study shipbuilding, living in the still extant Tsar Peter house in Zaandam, he often travelled to Amsterdam to see Backhuyzen. The artist would make drawings of ships, and Tsar Peter would work along with him in order to increase his own knowledge of their construction. Indirectly, in fact, Backhuyzen contributed to the development of the Russian navy. Tsar Peter also commissioned paintings from his artist friend. When he returned to Russia he created a special gallery at Monplaisir Palace on the Gulf of Finland devoted exclusively to Dutch marines of the Golden Age. Remarkably, this gallery has survived in its original form.
His princely clientele is just one aspect that sets Ludolf Backhuyzen apart from his fellow painters. In this Journal we examine several of his talents in greater detail. We take a closer look at his Ships in a Storm off Enkhuizen and his Battle at Sea between Hollanders and Pirates. We investigate the royal provenance of the former and the historical background of the latter. Restoration is also discussed. Finally, the Journalalso features a biography of this fascinating marine painter.

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Ludolf Backhuyzen was one of the leading Dutch marine painters of the second half of the 17th century. His first biographer, Arnold Houbraken, noted that the artist would regularly go sailing to see for himself how the condition of the sky and the water changed. It seems that he actually preferred to put to sea when there was a gale. His observations ensured that apart from his meticulous rendering of ships, seas and skies, his paintings are also marked by a highly accurate depiction of weather. This, and his artistic talent for composition, drama and colour, was the key to his success.

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