Out of all the works of art with in the Art of the United States exhibit in the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park, Shipwreck by Thomas Doughty really made an impression on me. It is a 25 x 30 ¼ in. oil on canvas. The reason this painting caught my eye is because it has two especially unusual qualities. First, Doughty rarely painted seascapes, and his paintings usually focused on the lyrical aspects of nature rather than the threatening ones.
Shipwreck was composed in the artists studio from elements borrowed from different locations. The painting is symmetrical with trees blowing in harsh winds on either side. The swaying trees seem to barely be holding on to the rocks on which they stand. Ominous clouds lurk in the distance that augment terror that the crashing waves bring to the viewer. Just beyond the vanishing point of the ocean, a horizontal line of reddish yellow breaks up the dark color of the ocean and the clouds. The gentle blended lines seem to celebrate the wilderness of the United States during the eighteen hundreds. The curved lines strengthen the movement of the ocean and the clouds. The color scheme seems to be unified and the overall dullness and darkness of the painting intensify the violent and even theatrical depiction of a storm. There is a tiny figure that stands both at the center of the storm and at the center of the painting.
I think the artist painting this painting because wants viewers to be able to identify with the miniature central lone figure. He stands alone and helpless; watching the ship break against the rock just offshore. It appears he is watching the figure immediately to his right struggling in the rampant surf. During the 1800’s shipwrecks were very common and many people could easily have identified with the tiny figure standing in the midst of the raging storm. The painting evokes both awe and fear in me. The rash of mother nature seems to be unstoppable.