The Sloping Deck

Behind the scenes

Although one of the smallest oil paintings in the permanent collection William Wyllie's The Sloping Deck is a powerful and terrifying image of a ship being wrecked on rocks.

I was reminded of Wyllie's painting when watching Kevin Biggar and Jamie Fitzgerald retrace the fate of the crew of the Invercauld, which was smashed to smithereens on rocks in the Auckland Islands in 1864, in a recent episode of Intrepid Journeys. The survivors of the Invercauld had to make their way from the wreck to the treacherous rocky shore in the middle of the night. If you look closely at Wyllie's The Sloping Deck you can see the crew and passengers of the their wrecked ship are facing a similar prospect. Figures can be made out perched above the surf as it surges over the deck. They cling to the remains of a mast protruding from the deck facing the inevitable prospect of having to swim for their lives in the turbulent waters. 

Being such a small work, The Sloping Deck is likely to have been a study for a larger painting but its highly impressionistic, sketch-like qualities are the very thing I enjoy when looking at this work - I don't think it was painted plein air on the spot!