The era when the painting of ships at sea reached its height was during the early 1800s. During that period, most painters, some or other time, also created maritime art. Maritime art depicts ships and the sea. Human involvement usually forms an integral part of a maritime painting.
It is accepted between art lovers and scholars that ocean scene paintings, especially ship paintings, are capable of evoking strong emotions. As a result, art collectors often have one or more maritime works in their collections.
To give an overview of maritime art, we’ve selected seven famous artists that painted ships at sea. Two of them lived and worked before the 1800s and one in the late 1800s, early 1900s. The other four are from the early to mid-1800s – the height of the ship painting era.
George Philip Reinagle (1802-1835)
One of the most well-known maritime painters of the early 1800s who created many famous ocean paintings was the English painter George Philip Reinagle. He started his career by copying the works of the Dutch painters Ludolf Backhuysen and Willem van de Velde. Later he became known for his ability to capture the essence of the sea’s character that destroyed so many powerful vessels.
In 1824 he exhibited the painting “Ship in a Storm firing a Signal of Distress”, and in 1825, he showed “Calm” and “A Dutch Fleet at the Seventeenth Century coming to Anchor in a Breeze”. They are all still today admired and appreciated by art lovers. His most known ship painting is possibly his 1836-work titled “A First-Rate Man-of-War Driven Onto a Reef of Rocks, Floundering in a Gale”.
Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865)
Fitz Henry Lane was an American painter well-known for his maritime paintings. In his beautiful paintings of ships at sea, he pays incredible attention to detail. As most paintings of ships always feature vessels in battle or struggling against the elements out at sea, Lane is seen as the one painter that has also brought the beauty of calm seas and the effect of calmness on a vessel to the canvas.
His 1860-painting “Halfway Rock” depicts a calm sea environment with several ships anchored down with small rowboats going from one to another.
M. W. Turner (1775-1851)
Joseph Mallord William Turner was an English painter known in his time as William Turner. He is deemed one of the best early painters of ships at sea. Turner is known for his expressive colorizations and turbulent, often violent, marine paintings.
Turner’s most famous ship painting is “The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to her Last Berth to be Broken Up”. It is a painting about a famous warship that was the star of at least one battle in the 18th century. He painted this scene in 1839 and depicted the final “sea-moments” of the Temeraire as it was tugged out to sea to be destroyed.
Another famous ship painting by Turner is “Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbor’s Mouth”. This painting depicts the sea’s ability to make even a large vessel feel the power of its might from time to time. The painting features a steamboat caught in a frigid snowstorm.
Louis Phillipe Crepin (1772-1851)
Louis-Philippe Crépin was a French marine painter. In 1830 he was appointed as one of France’s first two Peintres de la Marine. “Peintre de la Marine” is awarded by the French government (the minister of defense) to incredible artists who have dedicated their talents to the sea, naval ships, and other maritime subjects.
At the age of fifty-eight, he was appointed one of the French government’s first two official marine painters. Crepin’s paintings are known for their incredible accuracy, and many art lovers and scholars see him as one of the best painters of ships ever.
One of his most famous paintings is “Battle of Trafalgar”. Like many of his other ship paintings, this painting depicts a ship that has been involved in a deadly battle at sea. However, the “Battle of Trafalgar” shows the British Royal Navy’s opposition to two opponents – the Spanish and French naval forces.
Willem van de Velde II (1633- 1707)
Willem van de Velde II was a Dutch painter who specialized in maritime art during his career in the late 1600s. This was when sailing ships were the height of humankind’s technological achievements. Naval fleets were the most vital part of any military force. Most of Van de Velde’s finest works depict Dutch ships off the coast of Holland.
Velde’s 1665-work titled “Dutch Men-O’-War and Other Shipping in a Calm” features the Dutch navy’s vast fleet of ships, including the deadly and feared Men-O’-War vessels.
Jan van de Cappelle (1624-1679)
In the mid-1600s, maritime travel was responsible for reshaping the people and nations of the world because many pilgrims and travelers ventured to the New World. In Holland, the Dutch painter Jan van de Cappelle is considered an outstanding marine painter of the 17th century. Most of his works are marine or river views with several vessels.
He captured one example of this period in his 1650-work titled “The Home Fleet Saluting the State Barge.” The painting depicts some different ships gathered together in a port, saluting a vessel embarking on its voyage.
He was not interested in rough seas or cloudless skies. His paintings usually show ships and enormous cloudy skies mirrored in the dead calm sea.
Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
Winslow Homer was another American artist that was well-known for his maritime paintings. His works are known for their masterful depiction of light and dark, along with the colors and how sunlight brings out the depth in the different hues.
His famous ship oil painting of 1876 is titled “Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)” and depicts a detailed scene of a small sailboat with men and boys cruising along on the waves. It is one of the most famous boat paintings today.
The painting shows what a typical scene in late 19th century America was. Sailing was one of the most famous means of travel along the coast.
The Bottom Line
Although the 1800s are seen as the height of maritime art, many artworks from that era are still seen as masterpieces. And the artists who’ve created the paintings are still famous today. Perhaps this is because, for some reason, other ocean paintings, especially paintings of ships, are capable of evoking strong emotions.