Philip de Loutherbourg was one of many artists who interpreted the scenery around Conway in the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In this version, the castle looms high on a hill to the left, silhouetted against the sky. Dominating the estuary of the River Conway in North Wales, it has here been portrayed as a romantic ruin. A small cart stands on a sloping path to the left, depicted as running down to the rocky shoreline. Here eight men struggle to drag their heavy boat ashore from a foaming sea, with a rakish cutter running inshore beyond.
The combination of sea and land creates a coastscape picture and uses the shoreline to explore the danger of the situation and the exertion needed by the men to haul their boat to safety. The dramatic use of light invites the viewer to read other meanings into the scene. It has been suggested that the group of figures may represent smugglers and the painting equally underscores the potential dangers of the sea and storm. The implication that on one's own shore there is the threat of treachery invites an allegorical interpretation since, although only the sea separated England from Revolutionary France, this could also stand as a symbol for the tide of that revolution. The dark outline of the cutter on the right – a fast vessel of pursuit, message-carrying or escape – hints at this darker meaning. The artist painted several views of Conway Castle, including one that relates compositionally to this and which was reproduced as an aquatint in his 'Romantic and Picturesque Scenery of England and Wales' (1805).
Born in Strasbourg, son of a miniaturist, the artist was already a well-established member of the French Academy and painter to Louis XIV when the actor David Garrick persuaded him to settle in London as scenic director at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, from 1773 to 1783, at the huge salary of £500 a year. He was a highly successful and influential designer for the theatre and, primarily as a Romantic landscape painter, was elected to the Royal Academy in 1781. He exhibited there in most years from 1772 to his death in 1812. The picture is inscribed and dated 'de LOUTHERBOURG RA 1800'.
Where to see this painting?
National Maritime Museum
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