With the restoration of the monarchy, the Romantic generation harked back to a bygone past, a nostalgia that focused for some on the Ancien Régime, for others on the Napoleonic saga. The marine painting became the object of renewed interest, France relaunched its merchant navy. The Anglomania that gripped French artistic circles did not fail to impress Isabey. He visited England on several occasions, notably in 1820 with his friend Géricault when the latter crossed the Channel to exhibit the most scandalous seascape of the times, his Raft of the Medusa. In England, Isabey studied the heavy swells and calm beaches depicted by the likes of Turner or Constable exhibited at the Royal Academy in London.
Typical of the artist’s later style, this painting depicts a storm off Saint-Malo, whose picturesque architecture Isabey attentively studied. Famous for its fortified ramparts, this port in Brittany was also known for its heavy tides—among the most impressive in Europe—whose devastating power was thwarted by breakwaters characteristically made of spiky rows of tree trunks, seen here. The Romantic sentiment of humanity’s miniscule status when drawing boats ashore to save them from titanic nature’s colossal power is rendered by slashing brushwork and intense impasto that blends dark sky, granite buildings and anthracite sea.