Ludolf Backhuysen (Emden 1631-1708 Amsterdam) A Danzig galleon 33 x 45 cm. (13 x 17 ¾ in.)

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Lot 20
Ludolf Backhuysen
(Emden 1631-1708 Amsterdam)
A Danzig galleon 33 x 45 cm. (13 x 17 ¾ in.)

Sold for £ 111,150 (US$ 153,755) inc. premium
Ludolf Backhuysen (Emden 1631-1708 Amsterdam)
A Danzig galleon offshore making ready to sail with figures on the beach loading a longboat as other vessels come into the anchorage, a penschilderij
signed and dated 'Ludolph Backhuisen 1656' (on a piece of driftwood, lower centre)
pen and black ink and oil on panel
33 x 45 cm. (13 x 17 ¾ in.)


    Acquired by a friend of the current owner's family prior to 1900 and given to the current owner's father approximately forty years ago; thence by family descent.

    To be included in Dr. Gerlinde de Beer's forthcoming monograph on Ludolf Backhuysen

    We are grateful to Dr. Gerlinde de Beer for confirming on first hand inspection that this hitherto unknown work, dated 1656, is of great importance being the earliest extant dated painting by the artist, predating the previously recorded picture by two years. Its emergence confirms with certainty Dr. de Beer's contention that Backhuysen was painting prior to 1658 (see Gerlinde de Beer, Ludolf Backhuysen (1630-1708), Sein Leben und Werk, Zwolle, 2000, pp.34-36)

    Backhuysen only declared his profession as being a painter when he registered his third marriage in 1664. Prior to this, he was recorded as having worked under his father, Gerhard Backhusz. as a clerk in the Government offices at Emden, and later at the counting house of an Emden merchant; in 1649 he left for Amsterdam, joining the Bartolotti trading house, where his fine handwriting attracted attention, practising calligraphy and becoming a writing master and later turning to produce pen drawings and grisailles of shipping. In 1656, the year when the present work was executed, Backhuysen was probably making his main living buying and selling glass and working as a calligrapher: he is recorded as living in the Herengracht, the most expensive district in Amsterdam, being the residence of his employer Bartolotti. But it is likely that Bartolotti, as well as being employer to the young Backhuysen, was also patron to his early artistic output. The reason why he only declared himself a painter in 1664 was most likely because that was the year following his entry into the guild. Indeed, the evidence suggests that he was painting as early as 1649. A now lost painting in the sale of the Duc de Berry's collection in London in 1834 was described as being signed and dated 1649 by the artist and that was the year that Houbraken states that he became a draughtsman. According also to Houbraken, Allaert van Everdingen (1621-75) was the first to put a palette and brush in Backhuysen's hands. This painter of Nordic landscapes was in Amsterdam between 1652-1657, where he worked for the great connoisseur, Louis Trip. Louis's relative, Elias Trip was in business with Bartolotti and contact was therefore quite feasible between the two artists. Moreover, a further lost Winter Coastal Scene, signed 'Backhu..' and dated 1650, was formerly in the Hambro Collection and was sold at Christie's, London, 19th November, 1926, lot 54. This shows the influence of Hendrik Dubbels (1620-76), an artist whom Houbraken says Backhuysen had 'great access to'.

    The technique of drawing on to a prepared panel or canvas with black ink using a reed pen is known as penschilderij, and here Backhuysen displays his skills as the very talented draughtsman that he was, albeit that the present work shows certain characteristics of the beginner that were typical of his drawings at this date: the difference in the very thick and heavy lines in the foreground and the terribly fine lines of the distance are excessively marked. It is often said that he derived this technique and subject matter from Willem van de Velde the Elder's drawings of the 1650s, but Dr. de Beer has identified a closer precursor in the art of penschilderij in the draughtsman son of a shipbuilder, Casper van den Bos (born 1634). Unlike van de Velde's figures, who always have a task or simply stand stiff in the composition, Backhuysen's are more relaxed: typically the figures we see here are present in order to animate the scene, showing that the artist had looked at genre and landscape painters as well as his fellow marine artists. Further characteristics of the artist at this period found in the present work are the more balanced arrangement of the composition, as opposed to the more baroque designs of his later years; and the exaggerated perspective, the distance between the beach and the three-masted vessel being closer than it should in reality (Backhuysen did employ this tool in his later work as a means of emphasising certain areas of the composition, but not to this extent); also the fisherman with the spear appears in other works of the 1650s, by Hendrik Dubbels, for example.

    The coat-of-arms seen on the ship's stern in the present painting shows her to be from Danzig, one of the Hanseatic League ports in the Baltic and one of the greatest exporters of grain to western Europe throughout the seventeenth century.
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