Sunset at Sea after a Storm
Runner-up: Britney Hunt
Francis Danby was born near Wexford, Ireland, in 1793. After the death of his father in 1807, his family moved to Dublin, where Danby went to school at the Royal Dublin Society. Here he received his artistic education specializing in landscape painting. He then went on to make a living in Bristol, England, selling watercolor paintings of local scenery for a period of time, before his oil paintings earned him acclaim. Danby eventually became a member of an informal group of artists known as the Bristol School. He married but was later left by his wife in 1829. In that same year, he failed to rise from an Associate Member of the Royal Academy (which he earned by showcasing his art in London) to a full-fledged member. This caused him to move to Paris, then back to London a decade later, where he regained his artistic status. He spent the last fifteen years of his life in Devon and is still considered one of the great Irish artists of his time.
Danby’s Sunset at Sea after a Storm (ca. 1824, Yale Center for British Art) is an oil painting depicting a dark sea with a fiery skyline. In the midst of the inky waters, there are what appears to be shipwrecked sailors on a raft trying to make their way through the choppy waves. Along the skyline sits a burning sun that illuminates the ocean below and the clouds above, tinting them brilliant shades of orange and red. Accompanying these are streaking clouds of deep hues of brown and black, presumably an aftermath of the storm. An opening in the horizon reveals a clear blue sky with soft white clouds, juxtaposing the gloomy scenery surrounding it.
The painting is reminiscent of the Romantic style, with its strong colors, deep emotion, and focus on the dramatic landscape as a whole. The brushstrokes are swift and tend to stray away from minute detail and instead focus on colors and texture. This is exemplified by the men on the raft, where their figures have been created with the use of general shapes and there is no real detail in the faces or clothing. The continuous use of specific coloration throughout the painting brings the piece together and creates a sense of unity. For example, the reds imbued across the sky are also present in the light reflecting off the waves below. The distant line of the sea meeting with the sky brings balance to the painting; two parts of a whole. The partially obscured azure sky creates contrast with the rest of the work, providing a sense of relief from the ominous landscape. The focal point of the painting could be the single vein of a dark cloud that cuts throughout the length of the painting and stands out against the rest of the sky. The eye is then drawn to the intense sun below, and even further still to the abandoned men on the raft drifting to the side.
Danby's painting invokes several emotions in the viewer through its expressive techniques. One such emotion would be one of loss, despair. The men on the raft stranded in the middle of a vast expanse, surrounded by sinister depths and a long distance yet to go. The ombre and scarlet skies instill a feeling of discomfort, and of impending doom. Alternately, the peeking blue sky brings a sliver of hope and safety to those in the dire circumstance underneath. Danby’s painting also emphasizes the power and magnitude of nature, and how mankind is merely at the mercy of it. Interpretation could vary, as art speaks differently to those who view it.