Marine art

Marine art or maritime art is any form of figurative art (that is, painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture) that portrays or draws its main inspiration from the sea. Maritime painting is a genre that depicts ships and the sea—a genre particularly strong from the 17th to 19th centuries. In practice the term often covers art showing shipping on rivers and estuaries, beach scenes and all art showing boats, without any rigid distinction – for practical reasons subjects that can be drawn or painted from dry land in fact feature strongly in the genre. Strictly speaking “maritime art” should always include some element of human seafaring, whereas “marine art” would also include pure seascapes with no human element, though this distinction may not be observed in practice.

Ships and boats have been included in art from almost the earliest times, but marine art only began to become a distinct genre, with specialized artists, towards the end of the Middle Ages, mostly in the form of the “ship portrait” a type of work that is still popular and concentrates on depicting a single vessel. As landscape art emerged during the Renaissance, what might be called the marine landscape became a more important element in works, but pure seascapes were rare until later. Marine painting was a major genre within Dutch Golden Age painting, reflecting the importance of overseas trade and naval power to the Dutch Republic, and saw the first career marine artists, who painted little else. In this, as in much else, specialist and traditional marine painting has largely continued Dutch conventions to the present day. With Romantic art, the sea and the coast was reclaimed from the specialists by many landscape painters, and works including no vessels became common for the first time.

The representation of ships and boats has been present in art since prehistoric times, but the Navy did not begin to become a special genre – with specialized artists – until the late Middle Ages. It then takes mainly the form of “portrait ship” which has long been very popular and focuses on the representative of a single ship. Like the representation of landscape in art that emerged during the Renaissance, what could be called the maritime landscape then became an important element in these works, even though purely marine landscapes were still rare. Marine painting was an important genre of the Golden Age of Dutch painting, reflecting the boom in the overseas trade and naval power of the United Provinces. This period sees the beginning of career of specialized artists. This genre has contributed to the conservation of Dutch conventions to the present day. With the romantic period, the sea and the coast were recovered by many landscape painters and marine works without boat, have become common.

For the painter Franco Salas Borquez, “The contemplation of the sea, inhabited only by the winds, as an idea, the representation of an eternal landscape, the man seems not to have been invited, he remains as an invisible and intangible spectator “.

Types of marine
A basic classification of the painting with marine motifs (depending on the space-theme represented) would look like this:

offshore marinas
port and jetty marinas
marinas of beach, spa and walk of the sea
marinas of river and canal
panoramic marinas
Portraits of boats and prints
historical marinas

The fact that the marine painting differs from other topics of painting only by the emphasis of a maritime main motive, a demarcation from other areas is difficult. There is also no literature devoted to a global overview. The existing studies refer to either an epoch, a region or a theme within the marine painting. In art history research, marine painting is then treated in several genres. Preference here landscape painting is used as a superordinate theme, often with the remark that z. B. representations of naval battles are attributable to other types of images. These can be compared, depending on their quality, actuality and intended use, with event images, history painting and representation or memoria. Another important topic in marine painting was religion and mythology. Bible themes, eg. Jonas and the whale, Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, the Noah’s Ark, or the ancient world, eg. B. Fall of Icarus, Odysseus or the Battle for Troy, were used in ever new aspects and views. Individual works can also be attributed to still lifes and portraits. However, the maritime part of the meaning context decreases to representations of meaning background or image background. The same could be said about harbor, city, beach and river views in relation to landscape painting.

Pirates, ghosts and other myths
The painting of marinas has not been alien to the representation of the legendary. Myths, ghosts and a long list of boats, episodes and characters half fictional, half real, have their gallery in the pictorial museum of seas and oceans. In its rooms live characters of the Arabian Nights, ghost ships such as the universal Dutch errant, the Chilean Caleuche or brig Mary Celeste; navigators of classical literature like Odysseus or Jason; heroes and ships of the Nordic sagas (such as Bran mac Febal or the Hringhorni); floating chests like the biblical Noah or, the no less literary, Nautilus by Jules Verne and Vingilot by Tolkien.

Pirates, their ships, battles, boardings, assaults and other historical-mythical-literary episodes also have their considerable space, between the representations in engraving, watercolor, drawing, illustration or great oil on canvas. The chapter could be completed with the marines of epic evocation of real ships that time was covering with aura of myth, such as the schooner “Hercules” by Byron, the “Temeraire” immortalized by Turner, or the famous Titanic.

Marine art History

15th century
A distinct tradition begins to re-emerge in Early Netherlandish painting, with two lost miniatures in the Turin-Milan Hours, probably by Jan van Eyck in about 1420, showing a huge leap in the depiction of the sea and its weather. Of the seashore scene called The Prayer on the Shore (or Duke William of Bavaria at the Seashore, the Sovereign’s prayer etc.) Kenneth Clark says: “The figures in the foreground are in the chivalric style of the de Limbourgs; but the sea shore beyond them is completely outside the fifteenth-century range of responsiveness, and we see nothing like it again until Jacob van Ruisdael’s beach-scenes of the mid-17th century.” There was also a true seascape, the Voyage of St Julian & St Martha, but both pages were destroyed in a fire in 1904, and only survive in black and white photographs. For the rest of the 15th century illuminated manuscript painting was the main medium of marine painting, and in France and Burgundy in particular many artists became skilled in increasingly realistic depictions of both seas and ships, used in illustrations of wars, romances and court life, as well as religious scenes. Scenes of small pleasure boats on rivers sometimes feature in the calendar miniatures from books of hours by artists such as Simon Bening.

16th century
Paintings with maritime themes have been around since this century and are mostly allegories from Christian or ancient mythologies. However, the problem here is that the artists depict contemporary ships and only through other details is the actually intended image content recognizable to today’s observers. In addition, there are also works that are dedicated to contemporary real situations. In addition to mythology and the praise of rulers, cartographic paintings are also important for marine painting in this century. They usually show cities and the source of their wealth or their special meaning in the form of lively shipping.

The Netherlandish tradition of the “world landscape”, a panoramic view from a very high viewpoint, pioneered by Joachim Patinir in the 1520s, once again begins to include a wide expanse of water in a rather similar way to the classical paintings, which these artists cannot have been aware of. These paintings were essentially landscapes in the guise of history paintings, with small figures usually representing a religious subject. A strong marine element was therefore present as landscape painting began to emerge as a distinct genre. The Protestant Reformation greatly restricted the uses of religious art, accelerating to the development of other secular types of art in Protestant countries, including landscape art and secular forms of history painting, which could both form part of marine art.

Maritime painting of the Dutch Golden Age
The Dutch Republic relied on fishing and trade by sea for its exceptional wealth, had naval wars with Britain and other nations during the period, and was criss-crossed by rivers and canals. By 1650 95% of ships passing from the North Sea into the Baltic were Dutch. Pictures of sea battles told the stories of a Dutch navy at the peak of its glory, though today it is usually the “calms”, or more tranquil scenes that are highly estimated. It is therefore no surprise that the genre of maritime painting was enormously popular in Dutch Golden Age painting, and taken to new heights in the period by Dutch artists. As with landscapes, the move from the artificial elevated view typical of earlier marine painting to a low viewpoint was a crucial step, made by the first great Dutch marine specialist Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom.

For the marine painting of the Netherlands, the relationship artist-buyer won special importance – unlike in other European regions. Only here did the artist manage to sell works in stock and without ordering. These smaller and less demanding works were sold in large quantities, even at fairs. Therefore, the artists did not exclusively produce works of a particular genre. Many producers remained unknown and disappeared behind bigger names. Also a phenomenon of the Netherlands was the “lay painting”: artists who did not make a living, but still created professional works.

18th century
The century supplied an abundance of military actions to depict, and before the Annus Mirabilis of 1759 the English and French had roughly equal numbers of victories to celebrate. There were a considerable number of very accomplished specialist artists in several countries, who continued to develop the Dutch style of the previous century, sometimes in a rather formulaic manner, with carefully accurate depictions of ships. This was insisted on for the many paintings commissioned by captains, ship-owners and others with nautical knowledge, and many of the artists had nautical experience themselves. For example, Nicholas Pocock had risen to be master of a merchantman, learning to draw while at sea, and as official marine painter to the king was present at a major sea battle, the Glorious First of June in 1794, on board the frigate HMS Pegasus. Thomas Buttersworth had served as a seaman in several actions up to 1800. The Frenchman Ambroise Louis Garneray, mainly active as a painter in the following century, was an experienced sailor, and the accuracy of his paintings of whaling is praised by the narrator in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, who knew them only from prints. At the bottom end of the market, ports in many European countries by now had “pierhead artists” at the docks, who would paint cheap ship portraits that were typically fairly accurate as to the features and rigging of the ship, which was demanded by sailor customers, but very formulaic in general artistic terms.

Striking for the works of all British marine painters of the century is the high proportion of military representations. In addition to individual warships, there are fleet revivals, single battles and naval battles. Even at sea storms are mainly military vehicles to watch. For quiet seascapes the coastline is predominant. What they all have in common is the pronounced naturalistic effect in the drawing and coloring. Often, naval art shows night scenes, harbor scenes and especially naval installations or administrative buildings.

Romantic Age to present
The Romantic period saw marine painting rejoin the mainstream of art, although many specialized painters continued to develop the “ship portrait” genre. Antoine Roux and sons dominated maritime art in Marseille throughout the 1800s with detailed portraits of ships and maritime life. Arguably the greatest icon of Romanticism in art is Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa (1819), and for J.M.W. Turner painting the sea was a lifelong obsession. The Medusa is a radical type of history painting, while Turner’s works, even when given history subjects, are essentially approached as landscapes. His public commission The Battle of Trafalgar (1824) was criticised for inaccuracy, and his most personal late works make no attempt at accurate detail, often having lengthy titles to explain what might otherwise seem an unreadable mass of “soapsuds and whitewash”, as The Athenaeum described Turner’s Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth making Signals in Shallow Water, and going by the Lead. The Author was in this Storm on the Night the Ariel left Harwich of 1842.

Following the understanding of romance and historicism, many marine painters sought to portray episodes and events from their national past. For this century a great variety of individual interpretations of well-known maritime topics (storm, sinking, calm, naval battle) are striking. After a time with a particularly large number of dramatically pointed motifs (naval battle, shipwreck, sinking) they are replaced by quieter and more real scenes. These more exemplary representations lead to an everyday realism and milieu portrayals. New is the representation of the “empty sea”. In the effort of the romantics to show the infinity of the world, the paintings had less and less accessories. Artists gave their works a symbolic content of infinity, interested in the representation of the power of waves and water. But the waves on the rocks were more effective than ships and people.

With the technical development and social changes from the middle of the century also changes the image in marine painting and new topics are treated. Apart from the “empty lakes” (only water and sky, no people, ships or land) , human labor is also shown as a heavy physical effort and technical development is also described as “progress”. It shows ships with steam propulsion, how they maneuver against the wind, while sailing ships in the background can not hold this course.

Specialized marine painters concentrating on ship portraits continue to the present day, with artists such as Montague Dawson (1895–1973), whose works were very popular in reproduction; like many, he found works showing traditional sailing ships more in demand than those of modern vessels. Even in 1838 Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, still probably his most famous work, displayed nostalgia for the age of sail. Marine subjects still attract many mainstream artists, and more popular forms of marine art remain enormously popular, as shown by the parodic series of paintings by Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid called America’s Most Wanted Painting, with variants for several countries, almost all featuring a lakeside view.

East Asian marine art
The exchanges, both commercial and cultural, between East and West, have an example visualized in the painting of marinas. The pictorial interpretation of the sea by the European painters of the seventeenth century would end up being enlightening to the Japanese painters of the first half of the 19th century; not in vain your country is part of the aquatic culture at all levels, from the economic to the most ancient mythical, with dragon-gods that manifest as marine snakes permeating everything from their folklore to their philosophy.

As noted above, a river with a small boat or two was a standard component of Chinese ink and brush paintings, and many featured lakes and, less often, coastal views. However the water was often left as white space, with the emphasis firmly on the land elements in the scene. The more realist court school of Chinese painting often included careful depictions of the shipping on China’s great rivers in the large horizontal scrolls showing panoramas of city scenes with the Emperors progressing across the Empire, or festivals like the one shown above. The turning-away from long-distance maritime activity of both the Chinese and Japanese governments at the time of the Western Renaissance no doubt helped to inhibit the development of marine themes in the art of these countries, but the more popular Japanese ukiyo-e coloured woodblock prints very often featured coastal and river scenes with shipping, including The Great Wave off Kanagawa (1832) by Hokusai, the most famous of all ukiyo-e images.