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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Shipwreck Off the Coast of Alaska

Photo: Elizabeth Mann

Shipwreck Off the Coast of Alaska


Louis-Philippe Crépin

French, 1772 - 1851

In the summer of 1786, a French expedition, sponsored by King Louis XVI and led by Count Jean-François de La Pérouse, reached the coast of Alaska. On July 2 the French discovered a bay that was not on their map, and they set up camp to explore the mainland. Two weeks later, ready to leave, the captain sent three boats to chart the depth of the waters near the perilous entrance to the bay. Two boats were caught up in swift tidal currents and capsized. Twenty-one men were lost in ten minutes, including two brothers from a noble French family named La Borde.

The artist, a specialist in marine subjects, captures the men’s desperate actions as conditions suddenly changed. The La Borde brothers, in the boat at the right, offer a line to their doomed comrades just before they too are swept under. At the right, gesturing from a rock, are two members of the Tlingit tribe, who witnessed the event and searched in vain for survivors, according to La Pérouse. The interaction with the French and the story of the shipwreck remained part of the Tlingit oral tradition.

Oil on canvas
40 15/16 x 58 11/16 in. (104 x 149 cm)
European Art Acquisition Fund; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Art Acquisition Fund; by exchange, Mrs. Lew V. Day in memory of her husband; Arthur F. Ederer; H. Neil Meitzler; Col. Philip L. Thurber Memorial; Mrs. Donald E. Frederick; Mr. Arrigo M. Young and Mrs. Young in memory of their son, Lieut. (j.g.) Lawrence H. Young; Phillips Morrison Memorial; Mrs. Oswald Brown, in memory of her parents Simeon and Fannie B. Leland; Miss Grace G. Denny in memory of her sister Miss Coral M. Denny; Friends of Frank Molitor in his memory; funds contributed in memory of Henry H. Judson; bequest of Charles M. Clark; Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr.; Norman and Amelia Davis Collection; Norman Davis Collection; Mrs. Cebert Baillargeon, in memory of her husband
Provenance: Commissioned by Alexandre, marquis de Laborde (1773-1842), the brother of the two drowned officers, Ange-Auguste-Joseph de la Borde de Boutervilliers (1766-1786), lieutenant de vaisseau (Astrolabe) and Edouard-Jean-Joseph de la Borde Marchainville (1762-1786), lieutenant de vaisseau (Astrolabe), in their memory, France; thence by descent through the family
Photo: Elizabeth Mann
Not currently on view


For SAM’s My Favorite Things series in 2018, Marc Onetto highlights Louis-Philippe Crépin’s Shipwreck off the Coast of Alaska.


Exhibition HistoryParis, Salon, 1806 (Naufrage des canots de Lapeyrouse au Port-Français, sur les côtes de la Californie). No. 116, p. 22.

Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Marines, 1944. No. 131, n.p.

Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, American Processional, 1492-1900, July-Dec. 1950. Text by Elizabeth McCausland. Cat. no. 75, pp. 80-81 (as The Shipwreck and the Death of the Brothers De Laborde on the Coast of Alaska, July 13, 1786).

Paris, Musée de la Marine, La généreuse et tragique expédition Lapérouse, 1985. Text by François Bellec. Cat. no. 160, p. 31 (as Naufrage des chaloupes à l’entrée du Port des Français).

Paris, Musée Nationale de la Marine, La Mystère Lapérouse, 2008.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Extreme Nature: Two Landscape Paintings from the Age of Enlightenment, Dec. 15, 2017 - Dec. 9, 2018.

Published References[Chaussard, Pierre-Jean-Baptiste.] Le Pausanias Français, ou Description du Salon de 1806: état des arts du dessin en France, a l’ouverture du XIXe siècle. Paris, F. Buisson, 1808; pp. 411-412, 414-415.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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