Rijksmuseum Reflection

Wijnand, Nuijen,Shipwreck on a Rocky Coast, 1837, oil on canvas, 154 x 206 cm, Rijksmuseum

In a short glimpse, Shipwreck off a Rocky Coast by Wijnand Nuijen is a magnificent panoramic painting of nature and survival. Dynamic lighting of the sky is what first captured my attention. Dark outward and bright center forcefully dragged my focus beyond the cloud and I was staring. I was staring beyond the cloud, like how I would stare at the ocean horizon, then I slowly noticed the others.  

I started my spherical field of view from the sun peeking behind the cloud in the right-center. Peeking sun delivers a message of hope; the catastrophic disaster is now over and sailing crews are, at least, now safe from the horrifying tempest. Huge mountain on the left delivers a similar message of hope; crews are now in the safe land, rather it was their planned destination or not. The brightness of the sun and enormous size of the mountain represents benevolent nature, in contrast, a sunken ship, dark cloud, and wild waves, which is next to where my perspective moved on to, represent terrifying nature. And together as a comparison, ‘Shipwreck off a Rocky Coast’ is speaking of the magnificent power of nature. The fact two very distinct characteristics of nature coexist, amplifies the impression of another in comparison, and generates a new theme as together fascinated me.

Then my perspective moves to the survived crew on the shore. Here, Nuijen implements a multifocal point, creating a visual path from right to left, an assigned story to each survivor group, and one storyline as together. From the right, newly rescuing crews, dead bodies, gathering usable items, resting, drying their clothes, and moving to a safer location. As a separate variable, each variable contains an individual story, but as together, it creates one storyline: order of rescue. Nuijen’s striking use of lighting in this painting is another feature worth to carefully pay attention to. He intentionally generates optical engagement of light dropping to the dead bodies, symbolizing their souls ascending to the afterlife. The darkness of where survived crews are heading toward symbolizes the unknown and danger this land contains.  

“Pictures that treat the picture plane as a transparent window through which one sees the projection of that spatial continuum”(Bursati 912). Artists are well acquainted with the capability of painting. By utilizing and understanding canvas as a window, not as a two-dimensional tool, an artist can unlatch the infinite capability of painting. This painting captured my attention not only by multiple techniques or the glorious view it presents but also how those individual variables all together create harmonica view through the window.

by David Hyon

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