Wijnand Nuyen: Shipwreck (1837); Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

When one reflects on the history of Dutch art, ‘Romanticism’ is not the first word that comes to mind. Whereas other countries produced great romantic artists like Delacroix, Friedrich, Turner and Goya, it appears that the Dutch were too prosaic to embrace this movement entirely. A wonderful exception was Wijnand Nuyen (1813-1839), a The Hague born artist who studied art under the (then) famous painter Andreas Schelfhout. Nuyen’s large canvas Shipwreck on a Rocky Coast can be considered exemplary of romantic painting.
Typical of that style is the emphasis on the supremacy of nature, metaphorically speaking, but also literally: the dramatic events on the shore fill only a small part of the canvas. Nature, presented in the form of dark clouds, rocky shore and rough sea, makes the humans and their ship look fragile and powerless. The lighting and free form of expression Nuyen uses to achieve an optimal visual effect, rather than technical accuracy, are characteristic of the Romantic style as well.
Nuyen's liberated and spectacular style was very different from what was fashionable in Holland at the time, therefore comments on Nuyen’s work were extremely divided. Some found his paintings exaggerated and provocative, while others, like the Dutch king William II (who’d later buy the Shipwreck), conversely praised their daring character. Wijnand Nuyen’s talent never got the chance to fully blossom: he died in 1839, aged 27, two years after he finished this masterpiece.