Love, sex and the seafarer: ‘The human element’ in art

by | Nov 21, 2022 | Maritime Art, Culture and History, Seafarers' Rights and Welfare

I have always objected to the use of the term “the human element” to refer to seafarers. It not only sounds as cold as the periodic table of elements invented by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev. More important, it objectifies seafarers and detracts from their humanity. The following works of art show just how human they are — no less driven by love and libido than the maritime bureaucrats and pedants who label them “the human element”.

Joie de vivre: Falbalas et Fanfreluches, 1923
Print after drawing by George Barbier (French, 1882–1932)
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Sailor with two women ashore, 1794
Printmaker: Charles Knight after painting by Henry Singleton (English,  1766 – 1839)
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Sailor in conversation with a young woman,
1772-1791 and/or 1818-1833
Print maker: Mathias de Sallieth after drawing by Jacob Perkois, Johannes Huibert
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Three women from Africa and two sailors, 1925
André Lhote (French, 1885 – 1962)
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Venus and Sailor, c.1925
Oil on canvas
Salvador Dali (Spanish, 1904 – 1989)
Courtesy of WikiArt: Visual Art Encyclopedia
Image published under the Fair Use principle

The sailors’ den, 1875
Watercolour, pastel and gouache highlights
Félicien Rops (Belgian, 1833–1898)
Photo courtesy of Frans Vandewalle
Licence: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0

The sailor’s bride, c. 1849
Nathaniel Currier, publisher
Courty of the Library of Congress, USA

The Aged Sailor and the Old Woman, 1936-39
Oil on canvas
István Farkas (Hungarian, 1887 —1944)
Courtesy of

~ Barista Uno

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