'Dutch Merchant-Ships in a Storm'

Ludolf Bakhuizen (Emden, Germany 1630 - 1708 Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Ships in sail on a rough sea at night 

Artwork details

Medium and Support: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 39.5 x 48cm (unframed), 62.8 x 71cm (framed)
Date: 1670s - 1690s
Accession No: WAG6611

When this painting was bequeathed to the Walker’s collection in 1967 it had been attributed to Bakhuizen but was entitled 'A Ship of a Dutch Vice-Admiral in a Storm'.1| However, a Vice-Admiral’s ship would be flying many more flags (including one identifying the naval officer) and the Dutch flag would be flying from the main mast not the foremast as here.2| The painting appears to show a merchantman (perhaps of the East India Company) followed by a protective convoy ship riding out a storm. Unlike some of Bakhuizen’s paintings it is probably not meant to be a documentary image of an identifiable ship setting out on a particular voyage. Instead it is a scene depicting stormy marine weather to evoke the fight between man and the elements, a maritime theme especially popular in 17th-century Dutch art.

Unlike his rivals the Van de Velde father and son partnership, who focussed on the technical aspects of sailing vessels, Bakhuizen preferred to depict the Dutch maritime climate’s perpetually changing weather. According to Arnold Houbraken, the biographer of Dutch 17th-century painters and a patron of Bakhuizen, the artist was particularly attracted to painting storms. In a manner prefiguring the British artist Turner, when a storm threatened he would “step sometimes into a stageboat and let himself be carried to the mouth of the sea, in order to observe the crash of seawater against the coast, and the changes of the air and water under these conditions”.3| One of his earliest dated paintings showed 'Ships in a Gathering Storm' (1658, Leipzig, Museum der Bildende Künste). Its silvery-grey tonality contrasts with the more sombre palette and broader technique of his more mature works such as the Walker’s. His later paintings also frequently introduce a brightly-lit strip of sea forming a transition between a dark foreground and the glowering sky behind, as in the Walker’s picture.

Bakhuizen first attracted artistic attention for his fine handwriting when he joined an Amsterdam trading company as a clerk. He continued to practise calligraphy and etching throughout his life.4| It wasn’t until his third marriage in 1664 (to Alida Greffet, who ran a silk business) that he described his profession as a painter rather than a calligrapher. From the mid-1660s his fame as a marine specialist began to be established and after the Van de Veldes left for England, in 1672, Bakhuizen became the pre-eminent marine painter in Amsterdam. He received many local and international commissions from patrons such as Tsar Peter the Great, the King of Prussia and the Elector of Saxony. His most important commission was the large 'Shipping before Amsterdam and the Ij' (1666, Paris, Louvre Museum, inv.988), which the Amsterdam City Magistrates presented to Louis XIV’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Bakhuizen’s third wife left him a sizeable fortune on her death in 1678 and his last wife, Anna de Hooghe, whom he married in 1680, was also a prosperous merchant’s daughter. Although none of his children became artists his grandchild, Ludolf (1717-1782) imitated Bakhuizen’s work.

Later history

The Liverpool owner of WAG 6611, John Miller, was a tobacco merchant of Scottish descent and no particular wealth. He was, however, an eclectic and eccentric collector known best for his sizeable group of works by British landscape artists, including Turner|, and his patronage of London and Liverpool-based Pre-Raphaelites|. His collection, which according to the Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown| (1821-1893) filled his house through to the kitchen, also included a few Dutch landscapes, two paintings by the Spanish artist Morales (about 1520-1586) and a watercolour by the Spaniard Mariano Fortuny (1838-1874).6|Miller’s taste for stormy maritime scenes is suggested by one of his works by Turner, a watercolour of the port of 'Deal|' (Walker Art Gallery) showing a boat seeking shelter in a choppy storm. Miller was unable to keep his vast collection together and would periodically sell when he thought the market was right. However, neither Miller’s Bakhuizen nor his Beerstraten| (the Walker Art Gallery) appear in the Christie’s sales of Miller’s collection on 21 June 1851 or 20/22 May 1858 or in the posthumous sale on 4/6 May 1881 by Branch & Leete of Liverpool.


John Miller (1795/6-1873/8);7| Joseph Robinson; by descent to Kenneth Robinson by whom bequeathed to the Walker in 1967 and presented by his widow in 1988 along with WAG 6610 by Beerstraaten.

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|1.The attribution was made by the National Maritime Museum from a photograph. The information from the Gallery file was probably provided by Mrs. Robinson.

|2. Information provided by Remmelt Daalder of the National Scheepvartmuseum, Amsterdam, in conversation August 2003.

|3. 'De groote schouburgh der Nederlandtsche kontschilders en schilderessen' [The great theatre of Netherlandish men and women painters], Amsterdam, vol.ii, 1718-21, pp.236-44.

|4. The Merseyside Maritime Museum (NML) has eight etchings by Bakhuizen, some dated 1701 (1961.1.10, 1961.1.34-40). They show ships in storms and various port and dock scenes; there is also a frontispiece in which water-nymphs display Amsterdam’s coat of arms.

|5. When WAG 6611 was bequeathed to the Walker the National Gallery, London, believed it to be from the nineteenth century.

|6. Mary Bennett, 'Artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Circle: The First Generation', NMGM, 1988, p.9; Frank Milner, 'Turner Paintings in Merseyside Collections', NMGM, 1990, pp.43-44 cat. no.21; 'Diary of Ford Madox Brown', ed. Virginia Surtees, New Haven, 1981, p.189. The Dutch landscapes included in the 1881 sale were a Van der Neer(?) 'Moonrise with boats' (lot 152) and a Jan van der Heyden and Adrian van de Velde 'Landscape with figures' (lot 156). For further information on Miller see also Anne MacPhee in 'Riches into Art. Liverpool Collectors 1770-1880 Essays in honour of Margaret T. Gibson' ed. Pat Starkey, Liverpool University Press, 1993, pp.54-66.

|7. Bennett provides a death date of 1873 whereas MacPhee’s date is 1878.