A Marine Show

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Maritime art is a figurative style of painting inspired by life at sea. It became a recognised genre towards the end of the Middle Ages, and was particularly prevalent from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. The paintings from this period commonly portray seafaring at its most dangerous, with themes ranging from dramatic shipwrecks to explosive naval battles.

Traditional marine art reflected the importance of overseas trade and naval power, and for centuries the human relationship with the sea and all things maritime has inspired and been recorded by artists. The sea, unknown and feared, was the dangerous element over which the world's trade was transported and national power was extended, and the ship was the creation that made it all possible. Kings and admirals sought to have their ships illustrated and their successful battles recorded. Shipping merchants wanted their favourite ships immortalised, and later, paintings and posters were needed to sell shipping lines to the public.

From 1673 onwards, Dutch painters, with their new and naturalistic ways of painting the sea and ships’ sails, brought specialist marine art to Britain. The sea and seaside were also recurrent themes for artists of the Newlyn School, led by Stanhope Forbes, which founded a movement early in the 20th century, concerned with social realism, among the fishing communities of Cornwall, with emphasis on strong drawing and painting skills. The traditional task of the marine artist was to portray ships framed by harbours, or the settings for sea-battles. Their work concerned itself with the building of ships and boats, naval fleets and beaches and harbours; with seas and storms, fish and seabirds.

Today the sea is often depicted by contemporary artists as a playground. Early traditional scenes of the lives and industry of fisherfolk and their communities are replaced with paintings of modern shipping, as specialised marine painters continue to create tranquil boating scenes, colourful seascapes and sporting activities on the water as well as the modern heavy industry of oil exploration and ship ‘portraits’.

Our selection includes the work of a number of classical marine artists alongside the work of several contemporary artists for whom the sea is the main source of inspiration.