Until aircraft were invented, the only way of traveling between continents was by sea. And sea travel has its complex history of tragedies and victories. People and goods moved across the seas. Battles were fought on the seas. And all these aspects of the seafaring life became, inevitably, a topic for artists.
The Sea World in Paintings: Between Epic Battles and Majestic Depictions of Famous Ships
While there are many nautical paintings in museums and in private collections, the topics they cover are focused on three main areas:
- Detailed view of famous ships
- Life at sea
- Naval battles.
Out of all the nautical art paintings created so far, these are some of the most interesting:
- Earl of Abergavenny by Thomas Luny
The Earl of Abergavenny was an East Indiaman – a large ship used by the British to bring various goods (especially spices and fine fabrics) from India and other East Asian colonies. It was launched in 1796 and successfully completed four voyages. On its fifth return journey, the Earl of Abergavenny was sunk after striking on the Shambles off the Isles of Portland, in the English Channel.
The painting of this majestic 3-mast ship was completed by Thomas Luny in 1801, at the beginning of its third journey. The painting shows the East Indiaman with all its sails up, navigating on an agitated sea, right before a storm. One interesting aspect connected with the Earl of Abergavenny is that its captain, John Wordsworth, was the brother of the well-known poet William Wordsworth. The poet purchased the painting in 1896, to remind him of his brother tragically lost at sea.
- The Battle of Trafalgar by Louis Philippe Crepin
This is one of the most famous naval battles, which cemented Admiral Nelson’s place in history. It was one of the many Napoleonic Wars, pitting the British Navy against the French one. In 1805, Louis Philippe Crepin chose to depict the life and death battle between the French ship Redoutable and HMS Temeraire.
The painting vividly shows the devastation caused by canon fire in a sea battle. The two protagonists are surrounded by other ships that open fire from various directions, in a total confusion that must have been frightening for the sailors and soldiers on board.
- Impression Sunrise by Claude Monet
Claude Monet revolutionized painting with the pointillist technique specific to the Impressionist style. This technique involves applying dots, rather than strokes of paint on the canvas. To properly view the painting, one has to step back a few feet.
Impression Sunrise is a nautical painting that depicts calm and serene sea in Le Havre harbor as the sun goes up. Small fishing boats are leaving the shore, while larger ships are barely perceived in the background, moored to the docks.
- The Grand Canal, Venice, by William Turner
While the Venetian canals do not officially qualify as sea, the image of majestic ships sailing peacefully does qualify as nautical painting. Turner skillfully captures the image of a powerful Venetia – one of the most important European hubs for trade for centuries.
The soft colors and the calm atmosphere make this painting a pleasure to admire and understand the fascination many people have with ships and sailing.