Marine Painter Andreas Achenbach (1815-1910)
The Return of the Fishing Boats, 1888
Oil on canvas
95 x 78 cm
He was certainly not an avant-gardist, and yet the painter Andreas Achenbach is one of the most important painters of the Düsseldorf School and is considered the most influential marine painter in Germany in the 19th century.
The painting shows sailing ships heading for the safe harbor in a troubled sea. Only a narrow entrance is offered to them between the flooded bulwark on the right edge of the picture and the wreckage floating in the water, which refers to the fate of another ship. At the center of this daring maneuver is a Dutch fishing vessel. Its mast rises high into the cloudy sky, which through a remnant of blue hints at the past sunny day. Extraordinarily rich in contrast, the painter has placed the boat between the waves. The smallness of the dark objects against the light water, the light clouds against the darkness of the storm, the high rising black-brown smoke of the steamer, as well as the chiaroscuro in the water itself create a strong, dramatic liveliness. Achenbach also contrasts the various elements of the picture through the brushwork: The boat in the center is very finely executed, whereas the broad ductus seems to set the foaming waves in motion.
In contrast to the Impressionists, Achenbach tried to make the viewers direct eyewitnesses of dramatic scenes. Taking his cue from reportage, he often thematized ship disasters in his works by depicting the crew’s struggle against the rough seas. Achenbach was a so-called „salon painter“ who painted his works according to the taste of the educated upper class. To attract the public’s attention to his paintings, he had to develop effective motifs that could hold their own against the works of other painters. Typical are his realistic compositional style and precise observation of nature without topographical fixation, which he brought to true mastery in his dramatically arranged paintings of the sea.