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Ships in a Stormy Sea off a Coast (work of art)

Artwork Info

circa 1700 to 1705
59 5/8 x 91 1/8 inches (151.4 x 231.5 centimeters)


Purchased with funds from the North Carolina State Art Society (Robert F. Phifer Bequest) and Arthur Leroy and Lila Fisher Caldwell, by exchange

Object Number
Dutch European
European to 1910

Key Ideas

  • This seascape painting was created during the Dutch Golden Age. It was a time of great wealth and success for the Dutch Republic.
  • Seascapes were a popular genre of painting among 17th-century Dutch artists. The Dutch considered seascape paintings to be a source of national pride.
  • Ludolf Backhuysen became famous for his stormy seascape paintings. He was a leading painter of the Dutch seascape painting genre.
  • This painting portrays a real event that happened in the late 1600s.

Learn More

This painting is a reminder of the strength and power of nature. It shows how vulnerable humans are to nature’s fury. Seascape paintings of Holland’s ocean ports and Dutch fishing and trading ships were a source of national pride. These types of paintings celebrated their success in overseas trade and their military victories. Seascapes became a popular genre among wealthy Dutch art patrons. They often commissioned seascape paintings and displayed them in their homes and in public places.

Ludolf Backhuysen was a German-born Dutch painter. He became the leader of the Dutch seascape painting genre during the late 17th century. His paintings often depicted storms at sea. He painted these scenes realistically and used dramatic lighting effects and rich colors. In addition to painting seascapes, Backhuysen painted portraits and townscapes. He painted Ships in a Stormy Sea off a Coast during the Dutch Golden Age. During this period in history, Dutch trade, science, and art (and their military) were among the best in the world.

The Dutch people understood the dangers that the ocean posed to sailors. Their historical records include detailed descriptions of violent storms along their coastline. Based on their research, art historians believe this painting depicts the March 1694 hurricane in which two Dutch sailors were killed at sea. The storm hit the Strait of Gibraltar, the body of water that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.

tags: weather, clouds, boats, waves, force, impact, movement, perspective, survival, water

Additional Resources

Resources for Teachers: 


Resources for Students:


  • A painting of three ships in the ocean during a storm. The sky is dark and cloudy. The ocean is mostly black, with giant white-capped waves.

    Ships in a Stormy Sea off a Coast