The title of this painting recalls that of a famous book by Victor Hugo but curiously enough the picture is not reminiscent of the accepted style of the gifted artist who painted it. Everyone knows his paintings of large open spaces or rooms, his Napoleon On Board The Bellerophon for example. So this almost intimate picture of a patch of the ocean, a dramatic little scene nevertheless, is a departure from his usual 'mise en scene' and perhaps all the more attractive for its novelty.
Two or three points may be noted in this picture, first and most important is the bold way in which the little boat is slung by the artist right corner from corner to corner of the canvas, a daring and successful executed design to begin with.
We then notice that the sail is close-reefed, the swirl of the waters and the wake thrown up by the boat complete the sense of the driving power of wind and wave. Lastly, the figures are cunningly grouped and are the life of the picture without dominating it. The design however, is the master-touch.
Sir William Orchardson was born at Edinburgh in 1835 and entered the Trustee Academy in 1850. He studied under Scott Lauder and become leader of a group of students including GP Chalmers, William McTaggart, John Pettie, Tom & Peter Graham and John McWhirter.
Coming to London in the 1860's he exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1863 and was elected ARA in 1868, RA in 1877. He was knighted in 1907 and died in 1910.