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The wonder of water: A celebration in song and art

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water,” wrote W.H. Auden in his poem First Things First. This is such an obvious truth that one wonders why the seas are strewn with tonnes of plastic waste and rivers are polluted till they become dark and ugly. The following song and works of art are a tribute to life-giving andl life-sustaining water. They are a reminder as well that water is a precious resource that ought not to be taken for granted.

Windjammers and steamers: Alfred Wallis’ delightful art

The paintings of Cornish artist Alfred Wallis (1855–1942) are often called “naïve art”. Tate, the venerable British art institution, defines the term as art that “is simple, unaffected and unsophisticated — usually specifically refers to art made by artists who have had no formal training in an art school or academy”. Whilst the label is technically correct when applied to Wallis, it is woefully inadequate to describe his art. It does not do justice to the man.

The head-turning marine art of J.M.W. Turner

Most folks who have seen the works of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851) would understand why he is England’s most beloved Romantic landscape painter. The English art critic John Ruskin, himself a gifted artist, said of Turner in his 1843 book ‘Modern Painters’ (Volume I):

“For the conventional color he substituted a pure straightforward rendering of fact, as far as was in his power; and that not of such fact as had been before even suggested, but of all that is most brilliant, beautiful, and inimitable; he went to the cataract for its iris, to the conflagration for its flames, asked of the sea its intensest azure, of the sky its clearest gold.”

The bounty of the sea celebrated in still life paintings

The French call a still life ‘nature morte’ — literally meaning ‘dead nature’. The term seems spot on. The British art institution Tate describes still life as “one of the principal genres (subject types) of Western art – essentially, the subject matter of a still life painting or sculpture is anything that does not move or is dead.” However, the word ‘dead’ hardly comes to mind when one comes face to face with a masterful still life.

The following paintings depicting fish and other seafood are fine examples. They celebrate the bounty of the sea and the infinite richness of nature. But more than a feast for the eye, these still lifes, hopefully, will remind the reader of the oft-oppressed fishermen who help feed humanity.

Lighthouses shine through in 100-plus years old photos

Shakespeare and all the other writers who said beauty fades spoke the obvious. Unless they are properly maintained, even beautiful lighthouses eventually fall victim to the ravages of time. But some old photographs of such structures, thankfully, are here to stay. The following pictures were all taken more than a century ago. Yet, they still retain the power to captivate and prompt the viewer to think about the beauty and splendour of lighthouses

The art of Gustave Doré: Spicing up a classic sea poem

Excellent poetry, it could be argued, does not need to be complemented by art. This seems true in the case of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge about a mariner who unleashes a chain of misfortunes after killing an albatross. In a 2009 review of the poem published in the British newspaper The Guardian, Carol Rumens spoke of its hypnotic power: “The scenery remains thrillingly hellish, while laced with photographically realistic meteorological effects, and the narrative drive is irresistible.”

Why publish such a powerful poem with illustrations? It’s a reasonable question to ask, to which one could reply: WHY NOT, if the artist happens to be Gustave Doré (1832—1883)?

Steamships and steamboats: A lost age reclaimed in art

In mid-June of 1819, the SS Savannah sounded the death knell for the Age of Sail when it completed the first steam-powered voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. True, the historic hybrid vessel relied on its sails for most of the journey. But this was the start of something big. Steamships and steamboats would eventually become ubiquitous — making passenger sea travel easier, expanding commerce and even changing the nature of naval warfare. The maritime Age of Steam would also fade away but not completely, thanks to the artists who drew inspiration from it.

The irony of time revealed in maritime photos

Time, it is often said, changes everything.. This is not exactly true. As the following pairs of maritime photographs show, some things change dramatically after the lapse of many years and others, little or not at all. The American-British poet T.S. Eliot was right. “Time the destroyer is time the preserver.” he wrote in The Dry Salvages, the third poem of his famous Four Quartets.

Leontine (Leo) von Littrow: A gifted woman and her seascapes

When it comes to art, it is talent — not gender — that matters. However, the fact that Leontine von Littrow was a woman is worth mentioning. This gifted Austrian painter lived at a time when the world of art was dominated by men, often to the prejudice of women. In fact, early in her career, Littrow began signing her works “Leo von Littrow” just so they would be included in art exhibitions.

The ageless charm of lighthouses in old drawings and prints

We have been so spoiled by colours that many of us may overlook the power of monochrome art. The following drawings, etchings, engravings and lithographs of lighthouses lack the usual colours that mesmerise the eye. Yet, they all bring out the beauty and splendour of lighthouses. They are a testament as well to the skill of the artists who were fascinated by these structures.

A salute to seagulls in poetry, music and art

Seagulls can be quite pesky. The loud, harsh sounds they make are no music to the ear. An Encyclopedia Britannica article describes seagulls as “adaptable opportunists” that feed on whatever food they can find. “Some of the larger gulls,” it notes, “prey on the eggs and the young of other birds, including their own kind.” Despite their notoriety, these birds continue to captivate many people with their beauty, resilience and freedom.

A cupful of Chilean marine art à la espresso

Like other Latin American countries, Chile has produced some brutal military dictators such as Augusto Pinochet. But it also a country of poets and painters. Two Chilean poets were awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature: Gabriela Mistral (in 1945) and Pablo Neruda (in 1971). There is no dearth of gifted painters either. The following is a small serving of marine paintings by Chilean artists. I hope you enjoy them as you would a cup of delicious coffee.

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