What would shipping be like without tugboats? In the same vein, one could ask: what would the world of marine art be without tugboats?

These mean little machines exude a certain charm as they tow barges up and down rivers; nudge ships into position at the wharves; and pull disabled vessels to safety. When one looks at the tugboats in the following artworks,  the caption of a movie poster for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring might resonate: “Power can be held in the smallest of things.”

Tugboat on river, 1860–1921
Chalk on paper
Adolf le Comte (Dutch, 1850–1921)
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Canal Boats and Tugs, 1887
Charles A. Platt, American, 1861–1933
Courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery

Schlepper (Tugboat), 1910
Emil Nolde (German, 1867–1956)
Courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery

Tugboat in the harbor in Hamburg, 1851 – 1902
Carel Nicolaas Storm van ‘s-Gravesande (Dutch, 1841-1924)
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Port with tugs in Rotterdam, 1898
Pieter Dupont (Dutch, 1870–1911)
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Mist and steam, c. 1880
Watercolour and gouache drawing
Joseph Pennell (American, 1857–1926)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

Tugboat at the Pont Neuf, Paris, 1923
Watercolour and black crayon
Paul Signac (French, 1863–1935)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (via Wikimedia Commons)

London, 1888–1931
Willem Adrianus Grondhout (Dutch, 1878–1934)
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Tugboat Pushing Barge on River, 1868
Pen and brown ink, and ink wash on wove paper
Edwin Austin Abbey (American, 1852–1911
Courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery

Tugboat with two barges, c. 1890
Willem Witsen (Dutch, 1860–1923)
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

(Liner and Tug), c. 1914-1918
brush, ink and pen on paperboard
H. Lyman Saÿen (American, 1875-1918)
Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Untitled (Harbor Scene with Tug Boat), 1886
Henry Farrer, American, 1843–1903
Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

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