“I take it that what all men are really after is some form or perhaps only some formula of peace,” wrote Joseph Conrad in his 1911 novel, Under Western Eyes. How true! Yet how difficult to achieve. Like the sea waves crashing against the rocks, life is an unceasing struggle: of man vs. nature; of man vs. man; and sometimes, of man vs. himself.
Modern eyes have been spoiled by colours. Who would still want to use a mobile phone with a black & white screen? Even old films are being colourised to suit the contemporary viewer. Seashells, however, are just as captivating in a monochrome print or drawing as they are in an oil painting. Undistracted by colour, one can admire even more their wonderful contours and textures.
What would shipping be like without tugboats? In the same vein, what could ask: what would the world of marine art be without tugboats?
These mean little machines exude a certain charm as they tow barges up and down rivers; nudge ships into position at the wharves; and pull disabled vessels to safety. When one looks at the tugboats in the following artworks, the caption of a movie poster for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring might resonate: “Power can be held in the smallest of things.”
Sailboats held as much as fascination for French Impressionist master Claude Monet as water lilies and haystacks. He made several paintings of them. The following, in my opinion, are his most splendid works on the subject. They spotlight not only the beauty and elegance of sailboats. More importantly, they show Monet’s inimitable handling of colour, light and atmosphere.
The spirit of serenity, which Zen Buddhism seeks to cultivate, is a key aspect of Japan’s tea ceremony as it is of traditional Japanese art. In his iconic The Book of Tea, art critic Okakura Kakuzo drew a connection between the world of art and the world of tea :
“The tea-masters held that real appreciation of art is only possible to those who make of it a living influence. Thus they sought to regulate their daily life by the high standard of refinement which obtained in the tea-room. In all circumstances serenity of mind should be maintained, and conversation should be conducted as never to mar the harmony of the surroundings.”
What is it about beaches that inspires so much art and poetry? Is it the heady mixture of sea breeze, salt water and warm sand that makes human emotions rise up and rush in like the tide? Is it the brief encounter with eternity as one stands alone by the sea?
“Death hath so many doors to let out life,” declares one character in the 17th-century tragicomedy play, The Custom of the Country. How true! And one of the doors that stand between life and death is the sea. So many have passed through it, in war and in peace, making the sea the largest cemetery in the world.
Yes, there are real ghost ships. Phantom ships they are usually called, drifting at sea with their crew missing or dead. Amongst such mysterious vessels was the schooner Carroll A. Deering, which was found run aground off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in 1921 minus its crew. But equally mysterious are the ghost ships of legend and folklore, the most famous being the Flying Dutchman. These spectres of the sea live on through the works of writers and artists.
Time was when hand fans were in vogue. A woman who waved a fan seemed to look more graceful and elegant. Those who crafted this fashion accessory made sure that it was as beautiful as the woman’s dress. The following are some fans from the 18th and 19th centuries which depict maritime scenes. Those who think that men should take no interest in the subject should remember that Japan’s samurai used folding fans both as a fashion accessory and as a weapon.
Can the world do without fish? In 2018 humans consumed a total of 156.4 million tonnes (live weight) of fish, according to The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. The following is a tribute to God-given, life-sustaining fish from various artists and from the great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats.
In his 1906 book The Mirror of the Sea, Joseph Conrad likened the sea to “a savage autocrat” with a “conscienceless temper”, the “irreconcilable enemy of ships and men.” The sea, however, has not stopped the centuries-old tide of emigrants. Today, people still cross the ocean to escape political or religious persecution at home, or simply to seek a better life in a foreign land. It’s a familiar narrative that is told in the following works of art.
American-born artist James McNeill Whistler is remembered by many for his iconic ‘‘Portrait of the Artist’s Mother’ and his dream-like paintings such as ‘Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville’. His etchings, however, are not less deserving of admiration. He created many such works, the most interesting being his etchings of waterfront scenes.