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Reflections, Elizabeth Harvey-LeePrints of Boats & Rivers,
Ships & the Sea

It is noticeable in this catalogue, which is ostensibly a collection of marine prints, how few of the images depict the sea. Is this because most artists are landlubbers? There are instances of artists who were sailors or had a practical knowledge of life at sea, such as Hollar, Turner (who had himself strapped to the mast in a storm to be able to witness its fury), Wyllie, Briscoe, McBey and even, conversely, sailors who have become artists, like Zeeman and his 19th century admirer Meryon.

The imagery in artist’ original printmaking largely ignores naval history, commercial overseas trade and ship portraiture which are the raison d’être of marine painting. These themes were expressed in the decorative prints of the 18th and 19th century produced by professional engravers who reproduced in engraving, hand-coloured aquatint or tinted lithography the subjects painted in oil or watercolours by specialist marine painters. Artists who were original printmakers responded more to the picturesque elements of boats, to light on water, the romance of watery places like Venice and Amsterdam, or portraits of ports such as Marseilles or Naples where ships while inherent are also incidental to the artistic composition. The great river highways such as the Thames, the Elbe etc excited artists’ imaginations as did the fishing paraphernalia of small coastal harbours and the pleasures of the beach and pier at seaside resorts. A number of the artists’ colonies established in the later 19th centuries were at coastal villages such as Cullercoats, Staithes, Newlyn etc. The open sea had apparently less to offer in the way of motifs for the black and white graphic artist, as well as presenting practical difficulties of working in physically unstable and potentially damp surroundings.

The earliest ship prints emanated from Antwerp and Venice in a few examples at the end of the 15th century. They were the two big maritime powers of their day and both cities had the cultural ambience in which such prints might be produced and appreciated. The potential was recognised in the following century by the Antwerp publisher Hieronymous Cock who commissioned Pieter Brueghel the Elder to produce a series of drawings of different ships to be published as engravings. These, engraved by Frans Huys, are amongst the earliest fine marine prints generally available. In the closing decades of the 16th century the suppression of the revolt in the southern Netherlands led to an artistic exodus from Antwerp, which fell to the Spanish in 1585, and a consequent artistic impetus in Amsterdam and other cities in the newly independent northern United Provinces of Holland. The importance of water and ships in the golden age of Holland is reflected in the content of artists’ etchings; particularly as the 17th century progressed and tastes turned towards the secular and a celebration of the financial success of a middle class founded on maritime commerce. By the end of the century artists such as Zeeman (as the etcher Reynier Nooms was known) and Ludolf Backhuisen were specialising in prints with a maritime theme.

Reflections, Elizabeth Harvey-LeeIt was in 17th century Holland too that the pleasure of sailing as a pastime was first recognised. Charles II when restored to the English throne brought with him a love of yachts acquired in Holland. Yachting however did not catch on till the 19th century when the recreational value of coastal reaches was discovered throughout Europe. Though on financial grounds sailing as a pastime was largely confined to the upper classes, the introduction of railway travel opened up seaside resorts to the middle classes and working man (and artist) who could enjoy the visual beauty of sail and harbour, both in actuality and in recollection through pictures and prints. Sailing and fishing boats and harbours were a natural extension of the picturesque and topographical tendencies developed in late 18th and early 19th century art.

In the later 19th century modern development and improvements’ led artists to appreciate the picturesqueness of the disappearing scene and to record it for posterity. Whistler etched the dereliction in Dickensian Wapping for his 'Thames Set' of etchings, inspired not only artistically by Meryon’s etchings of Paris and the Seine but also historiographically by the impending plans for the Thames embankment and redevelopment of the riverside and docks. The concurrent trend was the recognition and acceptance of realistically portrayed 19th century urban working and middle class life as a new subject suitable for art. Scenes of contemporary life which included water and its refraction of light were particularly appealing to the German impressionist printmakers such as Liebermann and Oppenheimer.

Twentieth century artists have delighted in all the foregoing aspects of imagery of boats and water. While they instil an understanding of the way of life of men and the sea through passages of carefully observed detail such as tackle, rigging and cut of prow, their prints also express abstract concerns of light and form.

Published 1991
40 pages, 136 prints described and illustrated in black and white

(Out of print)

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Artists included in the catalogue:

  • Anderson S.
  • Ardizzone E.
  • Backhuisen L.
  • Béjot E.
  • Bentley A.
  • Blampied E.
  • Bone M.
  • Both J.
  • Bracquemond F.
  • Brangwyn F.
  • Briscoe A.
  • Brouet A.
  • Brueghel P.
  • Buhot F.
  • Cameron D.Y.
  • Chahine E.
  • Constable J.
  • Cooke E.W.
  • Corot C.
  • Cotman J.S.
  • Crome J.
  • Derksen van Angeren A.
  • Dodd F.
  • Dusart C.
  • Friedrich A.
  • Galton A.
  • Gaskell P.
  • Goff R.
  • Guillaumin A.
  • Haden F.S.
  • Hall O.
  • Hardie M.
  • Heriot R.
  • Hollar W.
  • Huys F.
  • Isabey E.
  • Janes N.
  • Kappel P.
  • Kasimir L.
  • Lalanne M.
  • Latenay G. de
  • Le Bas J.P.
  • Lee S.
  • Lepère A.
  • Liebermann M.
  • Lindsay L.
  • Litten S.M.
  • Lucas D.
  • Macbeth-Raeburn H.
  • Macnab I.
  • Maret J.
  • McBey J.
  • Meryon C.
  • Nevinson C.R.W.
  • Nieuwenkamp W.O.J.
  • Nolde E.
  • Nooms R.
  • Oppenheimer J.
  • Overlaet A.
  • Rademaker A.
  • Raverat G.
  • Richards F.C.
  • Robertson D.
  • Rushbury H.
  • Schmidt-Rottluff K.
  • Short F.
  • Sisley A.
  • Smart D.I.
  • Smetana J.
  • Sparks N.
  • Squirrell L.R.
  • Storm van s’Gravensande C.
  • Taylor C.W.
  • Ury L.
  • Vahrenhorst P.
  • Vernet J.
  • Verpilleux E.A.
  • Ward L.
  • Warren E.B.
  • Watson C.J.
  • Whistler J.M.
  • Wilson E.
  • Wyllie W.L.
  • Zeeman R.
  • Zwart W. de

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