For many artists, their art has a very strong correlation with horror; this is because the purpose of paintings is always to represent feelings, whatever they are good or bad: they can represent for example fear, sadness, scary moments in life, or spooky legends.
Albert Ryder (1847 – 1917) was an American allegorical painter with a very eccentric personality that used to paint beautiful seascapes; his most amazing work represent an ancient myth from nautical folklore: The Flying Dutchman.
Legend has it that a Dutch man-of-war was lost in the stormy weather in front of the Cape of Good Hope and couldn’t make port; the entire crew died onboard, stricken with pestilence; there are common superstitions of mariners of a divine punishment for a dreadful crime of the men; many claims it was a pirate ship.
There have been many reported and alleged sightings in the 19th and 20th centuries of other ships; people claim to have seen a ship glowing with a ghostly light, or even real presences onboard, screaming for justice and help.
The scientific explanation given by experts is that it probably was a mirage seen at sea by several people, and that this kind of phenomena was common when they sailed for days and days in the ocean. But, no one could ever explain how it’s possible that several people in different ships saw the exactly same scene in the same period of time and wrote it down in different diaries and books.
Ryder is not the only one who represented this legend, in fact it was also represented by illustrators, and described by different authors in different period, such as George Barrington in his volume A Voyage to Botany Bay in 1795.
This is one of the most known ship ghost stories, but we have many more. It’s an important part of ancient literature, and as we analyze horror we cannot avoid to talk about how many sea legends there are.
The Flying Dutchman also inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, his longest major poem.