“Power can be held in the smallest of things,” declared a 2001 movie poster for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The maxim applies to magical rings as well as to tugboats. What would the shipping world be without the latter? Tugboats were on hand to assist the newborn RMS Titanic when she began her sea trials on the 2nd of April 1912 (pictured above). They remain part and parcel of the maritime landscape — pulling barges up and down rivers, nudging ships into position at the wharves, and heaving disabled vessels to safety. It is entirely appropriate that artists should pay tribute to these workhorses of shipping. Enjoy these handful of artworks!
Breezy Day, Tugboats, New York Harbor, ca. 1910
William Glackens (American, 1870–1938) / The Athenaeum
William Glackens’ whimsical oil painting gives the viewer a sense of the energy of tugboats and the vitality of New Yorik Harbor. The artist adds the silhouette of the Statue of Liberty in the distance as if to suggest the free spirit of American capitalism and its vigour.
Tugs and Crews near Battery, N. Y., no date
Fred Zimmer (American, 1923–2015) / Smithsonian American Art Museum
Fred Zimmer may not be an internationally recognised artist, but his death on 6th February 2015 was a big loss to American marine art. In this watercolour piece, he depicts three tugboats with a beguiling charm, their coats of red paint complemented by the beautiful skyline of New York. It is interesting that Zimmer chose to show the tugs from a certain angle and not in their entirety.
Tugboat Captain, no date
I. J. Sanger (American, 1899–1986) / Smithsonian American Art Museum
This linocut artwork is notable for its bold, well-defined lines and varied textures. The atmosphere of energy and vitality is enhanced by the smoke billowing from the boats’ smokestacks. The entire scene is very musculine, just like the tugboat captain sitting confidently on the quay with a pipe dangling from his mouth.
Tugboat in moonlight, circa 1896
Howard Pyle (American, 1853-1911) / US Library of Congress
Like all workers, tugboats and their captains need rest. Howard Pyle’s oil painting, which was used by Harper’s Weekly magazine in its May 1896 issue, shows his masterful skill as an artist and illustrator.