The world of fishermen: great 19th century paintings

The world of fishermen: great 19th century paintings

The slogan-loving officials of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) should exorcise the term “invisible seafarers”. The phrase was coined by some second-rate copywriter to add drama to the ‘Day of the Seafarer’ celebration in 2013. It sounds contrived, a moronic myth repeated by those who pretend to care about merchant mariners. The sea workers who are invisible — figuratively speaking — are those who catch fish for a living. Thankfully, there are great paintings from the 19th century to remind us of their existence and cast light on their daily struggles and aspirations. Here are 10 of the very best of such artworks.

Fishing Boats Becalmed off le Havre, undated
Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775–1851)

The fishermen and their boats are apparitions in a dreamy landscape. It is a beautiful but hazy day, and there is only a hint of the men’s hard labour. Then as now, fishermen are the invisible ones, not merchant sailors.

Fishermen Hauling the Net on Skagen’s North Beach, 1883
Peder Severin Kroyer (Norwegian, 1851 – 1909)

One can almost hear the grunts of these fishermen as they heave the net to shore. Note the fish leaping inside the net and the two men who are barefoot in contrast to their companions. Such attention to detail gives this painting its evocative power and charm.

Fishermen on Skagens Beach, 1883
Peder Severin Kroyer (Norwegian, 1851 – 1909)

Seven fishermen are shown relaxing on the beach, two of them catching up on some sleep. The sense of repose is reinforced by a calm sea. Did they fail to catch any fish and are waiting to sail out again? Kroyer’s painting invites a narrative that is up for the viewer to weave.

Departure of the Herring Fleet, 1866
Andreas Achenbach (German, 1815–1910)

Families gather on the beach to bid farewell to fishermen as they set out to sea. It is a clear, sunny day. However, the atmosphere is not celebratory. There are no hands waving, no cheering. The women in white bonnets stand close to each other, just watching the ships.

Fisherwomen of Kerhor, 1870
Eugène-Louis Boudin (French, 1824 – 1898)

The canvas is roughly divided into two sections: on the left side, the bonneted women with their fishing gear and, on the right, some boats on still water. It is a picturesque tableau showing a typical day in the life of fisher women.

Fisher Girl of Picardy, 1889
Elizabeth Nourse (American, 1859 – 1938)

With her bare feet firmly planted on the sand and carrying her fishing gear, the young woman looks out to sea as she holds a little boy by the hand. She represents, not only the strong and steadfast spirit of fisherfolk, but also the soft, nurturing side of all women who have to work to help feed their families.

The Fog Warning, 1885
Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)

This iconic painting by Winslow Homer speaks volumes about the hardships and perils fishermen have to contend with daily. The fisherman has caught two large halibuts, but the fog is building up. He has to reach the mother ship in the distance before he is completelty enveloped by fog. It is an anxiety-filled moment as the dory pitches roughly, and the weight of the fish makes rowing more difficult.

Women Awaiting Fishing Boats on Berck Beach, 1880
Eugène-Louis Boudin (French, 1824 – 1898)

The dark figures huddled together on the beach contrast with the sunlit sky and sea. The faces of the women are obscured, and only their white bonnets stand out. The boats are still far off, which adds to the dramatic mood of the painting.

The Drowned Fisherman, 1896
Michael Peter Ancher (Danish, 1849 – 1927)

Ancher’s dramatic painting is reminiscent of 15th and 16th century artworks depicting the dead Christ (see Lodovico Carracci’s circa-1582 painting, The Lamentation). A palpable sadness fills the room, but the dead man’s family and fellow fishermen show admirable composure and restraint in their grief. There is a sense of fatalism born perhaps of the fact that fishermen are used to the power of the sea and the vicissitudes of fortune.

Fishing boat, 1878
Jacob Maris (Dutch, 1837–1899)

A fishing boat with two figures on board stands solitary on the shore secured by two ropes. Another man is hard at work on the beach as seagulls fly overhead hunting for food and some ships, barely visible on the horizon, are still out at sea. The scene wonderfully captures the rhythm of life that fishermen have embraced and kept in step with.

~Barista Uno

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The top secrets of success in maritime journalism

The top secrets of success in maritime journalism

There is one lesson I’ve learned after spending years as an international maritime journalist. And that is, one does not need any special talent to be successful in the business. News writing is not like writing a treatise or a serious novel. It does not require a gargantuan mental effort or even a flair for words. One only has to have good grammar and be streetwise by following some basic tenets.

Master the art of kissing ass.

No maritime journalist has ever been liked who did not know how to kiss ass. Praising the industry biggies will put you in their good graces. This helps in eliciting information and even favours from your news sources (e.g., an advert or an all-expenses-paid trip). Who cares if you come up with puff pieces? Everyone does it.

Never fight the maritime establishment.

There’s a price to pay for criticising the maritime establishment. You could be scorned, shunned and even seen as a pariah. It is a conformist industry that has little room for mavericks and rebels.

Socialise even if you find it excruciating to do so.

Make sure to attend company events when invited. Rubbing elbows with top executives will pay dividends. They may, for instance, remember you at Christmastime and send you a nicely wrapped generic gift. Or a bottle of Scotch whiskey, if you have been very useful to them.

Avoid thinking too much.

The so-called interpretative news writing is going the way of the dodo. The point is to be productive, especially when working for an online publication. This means whipping up an article without spending too much time or effort. Why intellectualise? That thing is for nerds and geeks.

Work smart, write smart.

Reporters and correspondents are paid the same regardless of the quality of their output. Why chase after a story when you can rergurgitate a press release or recycle stories published elsewhere? Stitch together paragraphs from different sources. Most editors will be none the wiser. You see, they are too busy or lazy to vet articles submitted by their writers.

I’ll be honest. I had consistently violated all the aforementioned precepts before I quit journalism in 2009. I think my sense of delicacy was too exorbitant. Even so, what I have shared here has worked for many. I have no doubts that it will benefit those who want to get ahead in the mad, mad world of maritime journalism.

~Barista Uno

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Sunrise at sea: six glorious paintings you will love

Sunrise at sea: six glorious paintings you will love

It is January, so I thought I would share some paintings which depict sunrise at sea. The first month of the year derives its name from the Latin word for door, ianua, and is often associated with the Roman god Janus, who presided over doors and beginnings. I hope the following artworks will inspire readers of Marine Café Blog. In a way, they echo what the Italian poet and novelist, Cesare Pavese, wrote: “The only joy in the world is to begin. It is good to be alive because living is beginning, always, every moment. When this sensation is lacking—as when one is in prison, or ill, or stupid, or when living has become a habit—one might as well be dead.”

Smoky Sunrise, Astoria Harbor, 1882
Cleveland Rockwell (American, 1837–1907)

Astoria harbour in the Pacific Northwest state of Oregon slowly stirs to life as the sun casts its lambent orange light over the ships and water. Against the backdrop of hazy hills pervaded by a dreamy languor, the fishermen are up and about and the seagulls on the lower right are busy catching fish for breakfast.

Sunrise (Marine), 1873
Claude Monet (French, 18401926)

In lieu of his customary bright palette, Monet renders the French port of Le Havre at dawn in hushed shades of blue and green. The rising sun is shown only in small strips of yellow and orange, which are mirrored in the water. The atmosphere is subdued, but the artist has created a wonderful yet subtle tension between light and shadow.

Ocean Sunrise, 1907
Edward Browaski (American, 18651939)

Awash in the red and pink hues of sunrise, this seascape conjures up a rose opening itself petal by petal  to welcome a new day. The white and green waves and the wind-swept sails on the horizon all add to an electric atmosphere of vitality.

Sunrise on the New Jersey Shore, 1881
William Trost Richards (American, 1833–1905)

This is pleasantly off the beaten track of sunrise-at-sea paintings. The low-angle view of the shore and the artist’s thoughtful use of perspective create a sense of movement from the lower left area of the canvas towards the sun. The beach shimmers in the soft light of early morn as sky, sea and sand appear melded in iridescent blue and green.The sailboats in the distance and the seagulls flying about are inconspicuous but form a palpable part of the tranquil scene.

Dawn after the Wreck, circa 1841
Joseph Mallord William Turner (English, 1775–1851)

John Ruskin, an English art critic and avid contemporary fan of Turner’s, is said to have provided the title for this artwork. He probably imagined a tad too much as there is not a hint of any shipwreck, only an emaciated dog howling at the sea and sky. In any case, the lonely image of the canine, the blood-stained sky and beach, and the mist-shrouded sea make for an eerie scene that makes one’s imagination wander.

Morning at Sea, 1849
Ivan Aivazovsky (Russian, 1817–1900)

Ivan Aivazovsky, the Romantic painter extraordinaire, created a work that may be described as divine. A woman holding her two children by the hand stands silently on the shore and gazes toward the sailing ship that sits majestic on a calm sea. Is she perhaps waiting for her sailor-husband to disembark? The entire painting is suffused with a solar glow that evokes warmth and a feeling of expectancy.

~Barista Uno

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Five unusual maritime wishes for the new year

Five unusual maritime wishes for the new year

It’s too bad there are no fairies in the shipping world like the one depicted in John Atkinson Grimshaw’s 1879 painting, Spirit of the Night (pictured above). Otherwise, I would summon their help to make the following maritime-related wishes for the new year, 2019, come true. Being out of the ordinary, these wishes require some supernatural intervention.

Five-year moratorium on maritime awards

The shipping industry is deluged annually with a tsunami of awards. It has gotten out of hand. The awards are downright silly when they are handed out by maritime publications.


A remote island for rogue shipowners

Denmark is planning to force ‘unwanted’ refugees to live in a remote island. Why not an island for shipowners who abandon their crews? A limited, one-year residence on the island should let them know what it feels like to be abandoned.


An International Day of the Shipowner

There’s a Day of the Seafarer but no special day for shipowners. This is discriminatory and unacceptable in the age of liberal egalitarianism. Without the people who own the ships, the worldwide unemployment rate for seamen would be 100%. It would be interesting to see what slogans the International Maritime Organization (IMO) will come up with.


Maritime school officials reading the STCW Convention

How many heads and senior officials of maritime academies have read the full text of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978? New legislation is needed to oblige them to do so. It is sheer hypocrisy for them to expect everyone to follow the STCW standards if they themselves are ignorant.


Marine art in maritime offices instead of ISO certificates

This may be asking for the moon. An ISO certificate is a badge of honour for companies. On the other hand, a beautiful seascape hanging on the office wall would be a sign that the CEO is a cultured person and not a Lombard (Lots of Money But a Real Dick).

A Happy New Year to all ye readers of Marine Café Blog. May your wishes come true no matter how odd or outlandish.

~Barista Uno

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Coffee through the lens of guest photographers

Coffee through the lens of guest photographers

I recently invited photography enthusiasts to share their pictures for a special Marine Café Blog feature on coffee. It’s a hectic holiday season. What better time to take a respite from the workaday maritime world? Of the nearly 50 photos submitted, six stood out because of their originality, composition and overall impact. They calll to mind the words of the American novelist and poet, Gertrude Stein (1874–1946):

Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.

Best Photo

Untitled   © Eleonora Bruscolini

Eleonora Bruscolini of Italy has wonderfully captured the essence of a coffeehouse: a temporary refuge from the noise and bustle of the city and a place where kindred souls can have jovial conversation. The warm glow from the lamps inside evokes a sense of vitality and a congenial atmosphere. Adding to the visual appeal of the photograph is the floral pattern on the window. The picture arouses curiosity and draws the viewer in.

NOTE: Ms. Bruscolini will receive a nominal prize of USD100.

Honourable Mention

(in no particular order)

Coffee for Two   © Sandra Hunjek

A simple black & white photograph can make one pause and take notice. Sandra Hunjek from Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, celebrates the joy of coffee with skillful composition and a sense of rhythm.

Dervish at fest/ with flowers / plain coffee   © Oya Sanli

Unlike the customary images of coffee, this picture taken by Oya Sanli of Istanbul, Turkey, has a light and buoyant mood. It is a celebratory tribute to the beverage that energised Omar of Arabian lore and primes modern-day dervishes for their whirling dance.

As Life Goes By   © Debora Magliaro Sanso

A Paris denizen, Debora Magliaro Sanso knows the pleasure of sitting in a sidewalk café and just watching people go by. This is street photography that is straightforward yet thought-out and filled with human interest.

Untitled   © Eugene Rutter

“All that glisters is not gold,” reads a line from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. But this shot by Eugene Rutter, an old salt from Fraserburgh, Scotland, says coffee IS gold.  The lighting and colours certainly make the coffee alluring.

An old cabin by the sea roasting coffee for you and me   © Victor Lee Graham Fox

Who needs Starbucks with its dreary chrome and plastic furniture? The rustic café shown in this unpretentious but charming photo by Victor Lee Graham Fox from Maine, USA, looks more inviting.

Congratulations to all six photographers and thanks to everyone who responded to my invitation.

~Barista Uno

This article may not be reproduced without the express permission of the Marine Café Blog administrators. However, feel free to share it on social media or post a comment. The photographs featured here are copyrighted and may not be downloaded and distributed in any manner without the permission of the copyright owners.

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