The Derelict is perhaps one of the most celebrated and dramatic paintings of William Ritschel's long and successful career. An eerily beautiful depiction of a lost battalion tossed about in rough seas, this scene was viewed first hand by the artist when he was a young seaman. Born in Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany in 1864, Ritschel became a seaman for merchant ships, and developed a profound love for the sea. It was aboard a merchant ship that the artist first saw this "Derelict" and the image became ingrained in his memory. After his seafaring years, he attended the Royal Academy in Munich where he received formal artistic training. Early in his career, Ritschel combined his artistic talents with his love for the sea by painting marine scenes. He was popular and respected as an artist, traveling and exhibiting throughout Europe. In 1895, Ritschel came to the United States and settled in New York where he befriended artists such as Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, Edward Redfield, Willard Metcalf and others who were champions of the impressionistic style of painting. William Ritschel became very active in this community and joined the Salmagundi Club, the New York Watercolor Society, and in 1910, he became a member of the National Academy of Design.
Ritschel moved to California in 1909 where he found a waiting and inexhaustible subject along the dramatic coast. He eventually settled in Carmel and in 1918 built an imposing, stone studio and home high on the Highland bluffs overlooking the sea which he named "Castel a Mare". It was here, inspired by the sound of the crashing surf and the smell of the fresh sea air, that he produced his best work. The Derelict was extensively written about and was considered to be one of the most critically acclaimed paintings of Ritschel's career. The work is described in the Monterey Penninsula Herald on March 31, 1931, "The masterpiece of his career is The Derelict, a fascinating oil painting that stands in the Castel a Mare. The subject is the battered, storm-raked hull of some old frigate that had been abandoned far at sea. Wallowing in a wide and rolling sea 'water like witches oil,' to repeat Mrs. Ritschel's quotation from The Ancient Mariner, the skeleton derelict is depicted floating aimlessly, mantled by a dark and brooding sky. A pair of albatross circle over the ship's shattered deck and the golden tinge of an almost vanished sunset lingers on the horizon. The Derelict is a tribute to the photographic mind of its author, who saw the actual ghost ship on the Saragasso Sea when he was a youth of 19, a seaman on duty on a ship bound for South America. Ritschel sought to transmit the graphic scene on canvas, but several works were destroyed before he achieved this scene."
A Del Monte newspaper fragment of 1925 from the Ritschel family scrapbook reports, "Prominent among the 26 canvases [Ritschel] will bring to the California Palace in November will be the much commented upon and much bemedaled "Derelict". This picture has been acclaimed at each of its showing here and abroad as the most beautiful record of sea tragedy and pathos attempted by an artist."
Another fragment from a published memoriam found in the Ritschel family scrapbook states, "One of his greatest and best known masterpieces is The Derelict, an impressive painting of an ancient derelict galleon which hangs on the wall of his studio tower about the surging surf he loved to paint. Of this fine oil, Mr. Malcom Macaulay of San Francisco says: 'This is a painting of great Art, one of its kind noted among the World's Masterpieces... This ship was supposed to have been one of the lost ships of the Spanish Armada, which had drifted in the Atlantic for about one hundred years, and was finally washed ashore on the shore of Zuider Sea off Holland. Nothing authentic was known, only that her construction evidenced her build to be a ship of about that time.'"
Ritschel painted The Derelict as a brooding, mysterious phantom emerging silently out of the foggy dusk. He maintained in his work his rich sense of color and bravura brush, building a deep perspective into the picture plane.