Andreas Achenbach

Andreas Achenbach (1815-1910), Stormy Sea, 1892, Oil on canvas, BS Maritime Art Collection
Andreas Achenbach (1815-1910), Stormy Sea, 1892, Oil on canvas, BS Maritime Art Collection

Stormy sea, 1892

A Dutch sailing ship is in distress under a pale yellow stormy sky in roaring surf – the unleashed elements seem to merge into a single whirlpool around the boat, the mast lies menacingly askew. The crew desperately tries to reef the sails, but the approaching spray-armoured giant wave threatens to capsize the ship. Achenbach depicts the storm scene in a masterly artistic manner, with a brushstroke that varies from a thin glaze (so fine in the large sail that the canvas structure of the picture support is included as a creative element) to a pastose application of paint in the sea spray.

Ever since Achenbach had experienced the sea as a young painter on journeys to the North Sea coast in the 1830s, the theme of the stormy sea had never left him. With his sea storm and shipwreck paintings, he soon became successful with both the bourgeois and the aristocratic public, who were able to satisfy their lust for gruesome and doom scenes from the safe distance of their salons with the help of Achenbach‘s motifs. While his most famous documentary shipwreck painting, The Sinking of the President, commissioned by the Grand Duke of Baden in 1842, depicts the accident of the paddle steamer ‘President’ in the Arctic Ocean as a Dutch-influenced image of man‘s powerlessness in the face of the forces of nature, in this late masterpiece he plays out a different component. He stages a “moment of suspense” as a continuous loop: the viewers have to wonder how the scene will end – will the lifeboat, heroically braving the storm, conquer the wave crests in time to save the crew?