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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.

Lovers by the sea: A timeless celebration in art

So much for the pandemic, declarations of seafarers as ‘key workers’, and all that nonsense about mental health training. To hijack a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of by people in the shipping business. The following are some works of art that celebrate romantic love against the backdrop of the sea. Love and the sea — are they not more enduring than the things maritime folks like to blabber about?

Marvellous American art inspired by the Mississippi River

The United States Geological Survey ranks the Mississippi River fifth amongst the world’s longest rivers and the second longest in North America. From its source at Lake Itasca in Minnesota through the center of the continental United States to the Gulf of Mexico, its waters flow 2,340 miles (3,766 kms). But more significantly, the Mississippi River brims with history and culture. The following works of art are but a small collection but they tell a story about the great Mississippi. The three quotes are from Mark Twain’s 1883 memoir, ‘Life on the Mississippi’.

Time and tide: Powerful quotes and art to ponder on

What commodity could be more precious than time? A person can amass wealth if he is smart enough like Microsoft kingpin Bill Gates or Chinese billionaire Jack Ma of the Alibaba Group. But who can accumulate time? There is only so much of it allotted to every human being. Ironically, many fritter away their time posting selfies on social media, watching inane TV shows, or engaging in pointless political debate. I trust that the following quotes, together with some artworks, will serve as food for thought about the value and nature of time and about life itself.

Eye-popping Russian art inspired by the Volga River

The Volga is no ordinary river. The principal waterway in Western Russia, it is the longest on the European continent. Encyclopedia Britannica describes it as “the historic cradle of the Russian state” whose “immense economic, cultural, and historic importance—along with the sheer size of the river and its basin—ranks it among the world’s great rivers.” Small wonder that it has inspired so many Russian artists.

The Song of the Volga Boatmen: Hail to the human spirit

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…

Vintage maritime photos that will pique your curiosity

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.”