The Shipwreck 1772


This is a painting known as “The Shipwreck” and it was painted by Claude–Joseph Vernet. Claude–Joseph Vernet was an eminent landscape and marine painter in Europe during the second half of the 18th century, which was around the time the Enlightenment took place. Vernet made many trips in and around Rome as well as along the Mediterranean coast. He traveled as far south as Naples, all for the purpose of capturing scenes of the areas he visited, and that is what set the foundation and basis for his painting career.

This painting depicts a sinking ship that has reached a rocky seashore during a dramatic and dangerous-looking storm. There is a Dutch flag on the sinking ship. The painting is very vivid as it depicts strong winds through the crashing waves and the tree that is bending to its breaking point. We see dark clouds scudding across the sky, and a crack of lightening illuminating the sky as well as the presence of another ship in the distance.

In addition, the painting depicts survivors as wells as people who are struggling to survive the storm and shipwreck. We see people desperate to escape the sinking of the ship and are sliding down a rope in attempt to reach land. Others who have already reached land are unable to keep their balance because of the strength of the wind. In the image, there is a woman who seems to be laying half-dead in the beach and people surrounding her concerned. It seems as if she was drowning and was pulled from the sea.

“The Shipwreck” illustrates the type of style of marine paintings Vernet was best known for. The painter formed a dramatic contrast with a moonlit coast scene. This along with the colors and shades used gives the painting sublime quality as well as a sensation of fear and horror. Shipwrecks were a travel hazard in the 18th century, similar to the plane crashes of our time. Vernet painted the scene with lively brushwork and oil on a canvas.

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