A dream of snow: seven cool seascapes by various artists

by | Dec 21, 2019 | Art

December in Manila is no longer what it was during my youth: balmy and sometimes even cold. This year, the days of the last month have been distinctly hot and humid. The nights are mercifully cooler, but not to a degree that would allow one to sleep soundly without an electric fan running. The curse of climate change is upon the land. Sometimes I dream of snow falling on boats and harbours and all along the coast — a shelter from the torturous heat of the tropics, a wonderland like those depicted in the following artworks.

Nishimikawazaka on Sado Island (Sado Nishimikawazaka), from the series Souvenirs of Travel II (Tabi miyage dai nishû). Woodblock print, 1921
Hasui Kawase (Japanese, 1883–1957) / Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Snow enshrouds the terrain in Hasui Kawase’s woodblock print to create a ghostly but beautiful landscape. The solitary figure in the foreground and the light from the two houses near the shore evoke a sense of isolation. The entire area of the print is wonderfully covered with tiny blots of white, whilst the blue sea is completely still as if frozen in time like the land.

Snow at Hashidate, from the series Souvenirs of Travels, Second Collection. Woodblock print, 1921
Kawase Hasui (1883 – 1957) / National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution 

The Japanese feel a close connection and harmony with nature. It is part of their culture and is epitomised in this charming woodblock print. The three fishermen with their boats safely beached look poised despite the heavy snowfall. Like the snow-laden tree branches in the foreground, they are at peace with the natural world.

The Old Ships Draw to Home Again. Oil on canvas, 1920
Jonas Lie (American, 1880–1940) / Brooklyn Museum

Jonas Lie skilfully painted sunlight and snow, the two coalescing to form a delightful harbour scene. The boats in the foreground are huddled together as though they were feeling the cold. However, a broad band of light runs down from the horizon through the middle of the canvas to provide a sense of warmth. It is the warmth of home.

Harbor Scene in Snow, Twilight (New York Harbor in Winter). Oil on canvas, circa 1910–1915
Ernest Lawson (Canadian-born American, 1873–1939) / Philadelphia Museum of Art

A snowy day does not mean a pause in the life of the harbour. In Ernest Lawson’s impressionist work, snow is rendered in short and seemingly random brushstrokes to create a sense of energy. The boats are wonderfully positioned, calling to mind a lively dance.

Docks in Winter. Oil on canvas, 1911
George Wesley Bellows (American, 1882–1925) / The Athenaeum

George Bellows’ painting features the gloomy aspect of winter. The sombre atmosphere is enhanced by the snow-covered wharf, which is set against the dark sea and sky. The small birds flying about on the left side of the canvas add an interesting detail to the scene.

Watching the Breaker – A High Sea. Oil on canvas, 1896
Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910) / The Athenaeum

The wintry sea is full of wonders. The three figures in Winslow Homer’s painting stand in silent awe as a giant wave splashes violently against the rocks. This is undoubtedly one of Homer’s best seascapes.

Dunkirk, Sunrise in Winter. Oil on canvas, 1870
Eugène Boudin (French, 1824–1898) / The Athenaeum

This piece by Eugène Boudin may well be emblematic of the cycle of life. Winter does not erase the sun. Snow-capped harbours and boats are still witness to the sun’s rising. I am somehow reminded of the words of Albert Camus in his 1954 novel, ‘Return to Tipasa’:

O light! This is the cry of all the characters of ancient drama brought face to face with their fate. This last resort was ours, too, and I knew it now. In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.

~ Barista Uno


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