When viewing art, I often find myself comparing it to tea or coffee. That may seem odd, but the analogy makes perfect sense. An art piece such as a painting or woodblock print has a unique flavour — a distinctive quality or atmosphere that sets it apart from the works of other artists or even from those by the same artist. Needless to say, great art provides more than just visual refreshment. The following are some examples from the world of marine art:
Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797–1858)
Image source: US Library of Congress
Hiroshige’s woodblock print conveys a feeling of serenity, the kind that also infuses the Japanese tea ceremony. It is serenity born out of harmony with nature and the adoration of the beautiful. Japanese art critic Okakura Kakuzo’s description of the cult of tea in his The Book of Tea (1906) applies as well to traditional Japanese art:
Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.
The Stevedores in Arles (Coal Barges), 1888
Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890)
Image source: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza via Wikimedia Commons
Vincent van Gogh, one of the greatest Post-Impressionists, may have been a tortured soul. But he was also full of love, not least for the working class. His paintings, with their striking colours, vigorous brushtrokes and edged forms, are like shots of espresso or its stronger version, ristretto. In a strange way, they delight and refresh. (More of Van Gogh’s works in A legacy of love: fishermen in Vincent van Gogh’s art)
A Strong Wind, 1856
Ivan Aivazovsky (Russian, 1817–1900)
Image source: Wikiart: Visual Art Encyclopedia
Those who like it strong can drink from the seascapes of Russian Romantic painter Ivan Aivazovsky. A Strong Wind does not have the spectacular palette of Aivazovsky’s famous Ninth Wave (1850). Even so, it has the potency of vodka and shows the artist’s great skill in rendering light to convey the magnificent power of the sea.
Ground Swell, 1939,
Edward Hopper (American, 1882–1967)
Image source: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Ground Swell has a wonderful airiness which Hopper achieved through the use of light shades of blue punctuated by the white of the clouds and the sea foam. The dark grey buoy and the white sailboat are both tilting towards the right, which creates a sense of graceful movement and buoyancy. This painting is as refreshing as lemonade in summertime.
William Trost Richards (American, 1833–1905)
Image source: Smithsonian American Art Museum
Meticulously executed in watercolour like a photograph, Surf has the sparkling quality of champagne. Richards seems to have joyfully uncorked the bottle to celebrate the ocean. Bands of sunlight stream down from the sky and are mirrored by the glass-like shore, transforming an otherwise bare scene into an effervescent seascape.