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.
Here 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.
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.
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.