Face to face with death at sea: Seven terrifying works of art

by | Oct 29, 2021 | Maritime Art, Culture and History

“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.

The sea — this truth must be confessed — has no generosity. No display of manly qualities — courage, hardihood, endurance, faithfulness — has ever been known to touch its irresponsible consciousness of power.

— Joseph Conrad, from The Mirror of the Sea (1906)

The Wave (The Billow), 1889
Oil on canvas
Ivan Ayvazovsky (Russian,1817–1900)
Photo credit: Ninara on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence

The Wreck of the Reliance (November 12, 1842), 1843
Steel engraving colored with wood-blocks in oil-based inks on paper
George Baxter (English, 1804-1867)
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

The Death of Orpheus, c. 1870
Oil on canvas
Henri Leopold Lévy (French, 1840-1904)
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

The Deluge, c. 1886
Frontispiece to Gustave Doré’s illustrated edition of the Bible
Gustave Doré (French, 1832-1883)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Sinking of the Titanic, 1912
Drawing based on wireless description
Henry Reuterdahl (American, 1870–1925)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Wreck, between 1821 and 1824
Oil on canvas
Théodore Géricault (French, 1791–1824)
Courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art

The Wreck of the “Atlantic” – Cast up by the Sea,1873
Wood engraving
Winslow Homer (American, 1836–910). Published by Harper’s Weekly, New York
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

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