Some of My Favorite Maritime Paintings

I love all forms of water and boats. I was a competitive swimmer as a kid, and grew up sailing. I’ve had several boats, mostly sail, but one power. I can’t get enough of being on the water or just looking at boats anywhere I see them. To me, the shapes of their hulls and sails are gorgeous forms. Luckily, for someone who loves both art and boats, there are a large number of great maritime paintings in all kinds of styles, from many time periods.When I started to gather a few of my favorites, I realized that there was a big concentration of Dutch, English, American, and French artists. It then became obvious, that these were the great maritime powers of the modern world, so, of course, they would have the highest concentration of maritime art. The only exception to this was Spain. I couldn’t remember, or find, any significant Spanish examples. If anyone knows of some, please share them.

</pHere are two gorgeous early maritime paintings. On the left is the mid 15th century painting by the French artist, Jean Fouquet. Above, a work by Pieter Bruegel, the Dutch master, from the mid 16th century. They both employ a broadly similar compositional structure, although Fouquet uses parallel horizontal planes, and Bruegel, parallel diagonals. Their use of color and draughts-manship and sheer painterly bravura, is extraordinary. They each also create an unusual combination of representational and magical space that has a similar feeling to me.

Hendrick C Vroom, 1566-1647, was the first Dutch painter to specialize in maritme painting. Here are three of his great works.There are some paintings I love with only one ship in them, as you will see. But with Vroom, the more the merrier. Left, is a battle, below, a convoy, below that, a harbor scene.

The Dutch really owned 17th century maritime painting. The dynamic color, movement, draughts-manship, the sheer vitality of these three is amazing.

You can smell the breeze and the gun powder, feel the roll under your feet and the catch in your throat, as the wind lifts you over the waves onto a plane.

Below, Jacob Van Ruisdael, and Willem Van de Velde.

Rembrandt did only one pure maritime painting, but as you’d expect, it’s stupendous.
It’s called,  The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. He painted it in 1633.

The mid 18th century brought an end to Dutch hegemony in the world of maritime painting.

Frenchman Claude Vernet, above left, and the great English master of ocean atmospherics and light, J M W Turner, above right, and below.

Also from the 18th century, below, the German Romantic landscape painter, Caspar David Friedrich. His typical landscapes have a very Hudson Valley School, feel. However, his few maritimes are different, almost ghostly in mood.

In the 1840′s, an English maritime painter named James E. Buttersworth moved to America. Both his father and uncle were distinquished  maritime specialists, but he was to outshine them both.

Sheer gorgeousness. He famously chronicled the America’s Cup in 1893, just before his death.

In 1875 and 1876, respectively, Americans, Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer did these well known pieces.

One of my favorite painters of water and boats is Paul Signac. Here are two of his wonderful late 19th century pieces.Below, left, is a scene from the harbor at St Tropez, right, from Concarneau, in Brittany.

Finally, a 20th century, California plein-air painter, who specialized in maritime work, Duncan Gleason. This is a piece I particularly love, because, I’m lucky enough to own it.

If I can’t be on the ocean, there’s nothing I like more than looking at it.
The incredible wealth of great maritime painting is the best subsitiute
I know for being there in person.

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25 Comments on "Some of My Favorite Maritime Paintings"

  1. Ulf Skei says:

    I have to say I like Signac, and Turner’s work with reflection and light is great! That’s an interesting article, and coming from a family of sailors and fishermen I really appreciate maritime motifs.

  2. Kathleen Fennessy says:

    Very nice,and evocative article,David…two of my favorite artists are Van Gogh and Picasso…Van Gogh’s Fishing Boats on the Beach of Saintes-Marie is a favorite of mine…and,of course,Picasso’s boats are integrated into several paintings like Girl With A Boat which deconstruct form,line and color…always challenging to me in so many ways!

    • David Leeds says:

      They are two of my favorites, as well, Kathleen. As I said on the FB page, I’m baffled by the lack of Velasquez era maritime paintings. Do you know any? For me, Picasso and Van Gogh can do no wrong. among other things, they both were incredible realistic draughtsmen, who having mastered the rules, bent them totally out of shape for their own purposes.

  3. Orlando Sacasa says:

    Another great article David. My answer to your Spain question is that none of the great Spanish masters chose maritime subjects as far as I can recall. Nevertheless, there are a few lesser known painters – mostly XIX and early XX century – that are known in Spain for their maritime subjects, such as: Antonio de Brugada, Rafael Monleón y Torres , Ángel Cortellini Sánchez, Antonio de Caula, Antonio Muñoz Degraín, and Rafael Tejeo. Both Madrid and Barcelona have significant maritime museums, exhibiting mostly paintings. Several of these painters are also at the Prado.

    • David Leeds says:

      Orlando, thanks so much for the information. I’ll check out these artists. It’s hard to believe that with her significant naval power and great artists, the two never came together.

  4. Jorge says:

    Your choices are superbs! Those marvelous paintings bring for me one of the best qualities of human beings: the spirit of adventure and sense of freedom on the openess of the seas. We brazilians call such paintings “marinhas”. We love it too! We have some good painters of this subject, like Castagneto, Pancetti, Scliar and others. Try to find then on the internet, you’ll love their works, I’m sure!
    Congratulations for your judgment and choices.

  5. kathy says:

    Have always loved James E. Buttersworth in particular. I love maritime paintings in general, but there’s something about his that is loosely connected to American folk art, which I love. Such a spirit of adventure in all these paintings…a voyage to somewhere exciting. Beautiful post.

  6. turners ocean paintings are among my favorite works of his, the glow he has is so incredible its credible

  7. Danissa says:

    SAludos desde el fin del mundo!!

  8. Kib Bramhall says:

    Your list of marine painters in excellent, although Albert Pinkham Ryder remains my favorite.

  9. Susan Tiner says:

    It was a pleasure taking in this post during my brief lunch today. I’ve never thought of considering maritime paintings in isolation. I love the Dutch school painters and the Dutch paintings above are great examples. The other paintings are also beautiful and now I will make of point of looking at maritime paintings when I see them. As for a Spanish maritime painting, I believe I saw one at San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission of Father Junipero Serra saying mass at the founding of that mission with a big ship in the background in Monterey Bay. I found an internet reference to the painting, supposedly it’s by Troisset. If you google Troisset you see a link to the San Diego History Center site with a small image of the painting. I have no idea if Troisset is Spanish, but Junipero Serra was.

  10. Hi David; nice selection of marinas; I definitely prefer WM Turner above all, and my own efforts are directed to transmit what I have seen and experienced as a mariner and yatchman on my paintings.- Tks and Brgds

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Sculptor, painter, poet. Currently living in Los Angeles and Martha's Vineyard