One need not be Russian to be moved by The Song of the Volga Boatmen (‘Eh, Ukhnem!’ to the Russians or ‘Yo, Heave Ho!’). This well-known traditional song was originally sung by burlaks, the men who pulled barges upstream in the old Russia. The melody is stern and gloomy, which somehow reinforces the Western stereotype of the Russian people as dour and cheerless. But the song also has a triumphant, martial air…
Some photographs do more than delight the eye. They make you pause and wonder. Something in the picture bids you to take a closer look. It could be the unusual subject matter or the way the photographer captured the scene. The following maritime shots from long ago have such an effect on the viewer. They demonstrate what the English author Joseph Addison wrote in his 1712 essay, ‘Pleasures of the Imagination’: “Everything that is new or uncommon raises a pleasure in the imagination, because it fills the soul with an agreeable surprise, gratifies its curiosity, and gives it an idea of which it was not before possessed.”
One has to be a sailor to experience a storm of sea. However, there are enough storms on shore that are just as horrible. I do not mean the ones weathermen track with satellites. I mean the trials and tribulations which all mortals undergo — what Shakespeare’s Hamlet called the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” in his famous ‘To be, or not to be‘ soliloquy. The following works of art may well serve as allegories of life in these troubled and troubling times.
This year has not been the best of times, but neither has it been the worst. The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic killed more than 50 million people worldwide compared with the 1.76 million-plus who have died so far from COVID-19. Still, many may find little to be glad about 2020, except perhaps the billionaires, some of whom have become even richer because of the pandemic. I hope the following works of art will give readers of Marine Café Blog a measure of optimism and a sense of renewal as they welcome the new year.
Some religious conservatives may frown upon artworks that depict women au naturel. Hardcore feminists may dismiss them as objectification of women. The fact remains, however, that nudity in art is nothing new, and only the prudish and the narrow-minded will be shocked by it. The following artworks feature female nudes by the sea. The collection is preluded by the first stanza of a poem by Pablo Neruda (1904–1973), winner of the 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature.
As a coffee enthusiast, I have always associated Brazil with coffee. The country, after all, is the largest grower and exporter of coffee beans. Recently, I discovered that it also has a rich tradition of marine art that is as delectable as its coffee. The following are a few examples of what Brazilians have accomplished in this field. Regrettably, I am unable to share contemporary artworks due to copyright restrictions. This small collection should nonetheless give readers a taste of Brazilian marine art.
I have just spent several days searching online for artworks that depict the 1898 Battle of Manila Bay (also known as the Battle of Cavite). My search yielded a good number of interesting pieces. However, I found none that was created by a Filipino artist. This comes as no surprise. Although Filipinos pride themselves in being a “maritime” nation, the country has a paucity of marine art. Indeed, it lacks a tradition of such art — the kind of tradition that one finds in England, the United States, the Netherlands, Spain and other traditional maritime countries.
What is it about pirates that makes them so appealing to many people? They are essentially dislikeable characters. Captain Jack Sparrow, the main protagonist in the Pirates of the Caribbean fantasy film series, may not be the murderous type. But he is a rogue, a trickster who uses subterfuge and bluff to achieve his ends.
Nobody delights in war except warmongers. War is synonymous with death. It is horrifyingly ugly. Samuel Butler, the 17th-century Engish satirical poet, called it “the artificial plague of man”. Oddly enough, however, there is something beautiful about battles at sea, especially those involving frigates and other sailing ships built for warfare. The following works of art are some of the best I have seen on the subject.
What legendary creature could be more popular than the mermaid? Since the days of silent film, this mythical being with the upper body of a woman and the tail of a fish has been featured in more than 60 movies. She has graced countless children’s books. Her image greets coffee drinkers as they order capuccino at a Starbucks counter and drink from the cup with the twin-tailed mermaid logo.
Enough of the empty slogans. A meaningful, and certainly more creative, way to pay tribute to those who work at sea is through music and song. The following videos feature some of the best songs on YouTube about old sailors and fishermen — those hardy spirits who cut their teeth on boats and have spent many years at sea.
I have posted so many articles about marine art that I have now lost count. So it’s about time that I wrote about my personal approach to the subject. I have no pretensions to being an art critic, much less an art historian. But I do have a passion for art that started in my late teens. The world of marine art is so vast that I have to continue educating myself. With that in mind, I should lke to share some tips for appreciating marine art, most of them applicable to art in general.