A romantic and dramatic early painting that won Wyllie the Royal Academy’s Turner Gold Medal at the very young age of 18. It launched his career, and he became one of Britain’s greatest sea painters. He must have painted it quickly, for the prize was awarded in December 1869, just three months after the shipwreck depicted here: In the fiercest gale that anyone could remember, a topsail schooner ran aground on the exposed coast of France at Wimereaux, north of Boulogne (where Wyllie was brought up, in a house that was washed away by a storm three years later). The crew, who could not swim, had already lost the ship’s boat and were being watched helplessly from the beach by a crowd, when William and his two brothers ‘charged into the water. They were knocked down, battered and thrown back. Many times they disappeared into the waves and everyone thought that they were lost. The youngest one [William’s brother Charles] eventually had to return to the beach but the other two continued to battle on... just before they reached the wreck they seemed to falter. Then, with a last effort and to the frenzied cheers of the crew, a rope was thrown to them from the ship and with it they returned to the shore... and the lives of the seven men aboard the ship were saved. Nor was the rescue affected a moment too soon for almost immediately the ship was rent asunder.’ (From the local newspaper, La France du Nord, 17 September 1869).