Marine Art - From the Romantic Age to the present day.

Antoine Roux, Schooner Therpsicore, 1820


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.[32]

The new force in painting, the art of Denmark, featured coastal scenes very strongly, with an emphasis on tranquil waters and still, golden light. These influenced the German Caspar David Friedrich, who added an element of Romantic mysticism, as in The Stages of Life (1835); his The Sea of Ice is less typical, showing a polar shipwreck. Ivan Aivazovsky continued the old themes of battles, shipwrecks and storms with a full-blooded Russian Romanticism, as in The Ninth Wave (1850). River, harbour and coastal scenes, typically with only small boats, were popular with Corot and the Barbizon school, especially Charles-François Daubigny; many of the most famous works of the most important Russian landscapist, Isaac Levitan, featured tranquil lakes and also the huge rivers of Russia, which he and many artists treated as a source of national pride. Gustave Courbet painted a number of scenes of beaches with cliffs and views looking out to sea of waves breaking on a beach, usually with no human figures. During the 1860s Édouard Manet painted a number of paintings depicting important and newsworthy events including his 1864 'marine' painting of the Battle of the Kearsarge and the Alabama, memorializing a sea battle that took place in 1864 during the Civil War in the United States. [33]

Fitz Henry Lane, Salem Harbor, oil on canvas, 1853. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The ship portrait genre was taken to America by a number of emigrants, most English like James E. Buttersworth (1817–1894) and Robert Salmon. The Luminist Fitz Henry Lane (1804–1865) was the earliest of a number of artists who developed American styles based in landscape art; he painted small boats at rest in tranquil small bays. Martin Johnson Heade was a member of the Hudson River School, and painted tranquil scenes, but also threatening storms of alarming blackness. Winslow Homer increasingly specialized in marine scenes with small boats towards the end of the century, often showing boats in heavy swells on the open sea, as in his The Gulf Stream. Thomas Eakins often painted river scenes, including Max Schmitt in a Single Scull (1871).[2]

Claude Monet, La Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide, 1865

Later in the century, as the coast became increasingly regarded as a place of pleasure rather than work, beach scenes and coastal landscapes without any shipping became prominent, often including cliffs and rock formations, which had earlier been mostly found in scenes of shipwreck. Many later beach scenes became increasingly crowded, as holidaymakers took over the beaches of Europe. Eugene Boudin's scenes of the beaches of north France strike a familiar note to the modern viewer, despite the heavy clothing worn by the ladies sitting on chairs in the sand. The Impressionists painted many scenes of beaches, cliffs and rivers, especially Claude Monet, who often returned to Courbet's themes, as in Stormy Sea in Étretat. It was his Impression, Sunrise (1872), a view over the waters of the harbour at Le Havre, that had given the movement its name. River scenes were very common among the Impressionists, especially by Monet and Alfred Sisley.[2] The Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla painted many beach scenes, typically concentrating on a few figures seen close up, in contrast to the smaller figures of most beach paintings. American artists who painted beaches and shores, typically less populated, include John Frederick Kensett, William Merritt Chase, Jonas Lie, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who mainly painted rivers and the canals of Venice. Towards the end of the 19th century the American painter Albert Pinkham Ryder created moody and darkly visionary early modernist seascapes. The Fauve and Pointilliste groups included fairly tranquil waters in large numbers of their work, as did Edvard Munch in his early paintings. In England the Newlyn School and the naive fisherman-artist Alfred Wallis are worth noting.

The rather traditional British marine artist Sir Norman Wilkinson was during World War I the inventor of dazzle camouflage, by which ships were boldly painted in patterns, achieving results not dissimilar to Vorticism, inspiring the naval ditty: "Captain Schmidt at the periscope / You need not fall or faint / For it’s not the vision of drug or dope / But only the dazzle paint".[34] When the American navy adopted the idea in 1918, Frederick Judd Waugh was put in charge of design.

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.[35]