Tuesday 13 December 2016

Storms in art

The only seascape painted by the great Rembrandt is Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633). It shows Christ being calmness itself while his disciples panic, and one throws up over the side. Or perhaps that should be ‘showed’ as the painting was stolen from Boston in 1990 and has not been seen since.

At about the time Rembrandt was at work, landscape painting was emerging for the first time as a respected genre, The great French master Nicolas Poussin quickly latched on to the spectacle provided by a storm in his Landscape During a Thunderstorm with Pyramus and Thisbe (1651) with its trees bending in the fierce wind and its sky riven by lightning.

Poussin took a story from ancient Babylon, but during the seventeenth century, Dutch painters such as Ludolf Bakhuizen began to create naturalistic contemporary storm scenes, often with a hint of blue sky to demonstrate the wild weather was a temporary phenomenon and that order would soon be restored.

But by the end of the eighteenth century, a darker mood was emerging with painters such as the Frenchman Claude-Joseph Vernet painting tiny human figures striking anguished poses as a tempest rages around them. Like the great British depicter of storms, Turner, Vernet was said to have once had himself lashed to the mast of a ship in a tempest in the interests of research.

For more on storms in art, films, literature and religion, the worst storms of all time, and how storms have changed the course of history, see my new book, Storm: Nature and Culture (Reaktion). 

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