Maritime History in Art

i Jan 22nd No Comments by
Souvenir Postcard Los Angeles Harbor.

Postcard from Souvenir Folder of Los Angeles Harbor, San Pedro and Wilmington. Published by A. Kashower Co., Los Angeles, Calif.

Art from postcard issued circa 1912, is labelled “California Yacht Club and Harbor, Wilmington, Calif.”

The term Marine Art, alternatively ships in art, refers to paintings, prints and objects created well before the photographic image captured maritime history. Marine art is represented in both the Library’s and the Museum’s Collections of artists who depicted ships, sailors, masters, crew, and objects of maritime significance primarily of the Victorian Era through the 20th century (1830s to 1999).

For a definition of the history of portraying the sea and ships in pictures, see Peter Kemp, in the Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, 1976, page 521, who recounts: “… the earliest known pictures of ships and boats are those which decorate Egyptian pottery… around 3200 B.C.”, and further, that “… representations of the sea and ships appear in many paintings of the early Renaissance…” and, further, that “… the true birth of marine painting… occurred in Holland in the late 16th century.”.

Later in his entry on Marine painting, on page 524, Kemp discloses, “… world wars of the 20th century produced a plethora of marine artists… a result of naval appointments of painters as official artists to record scenes of naval activity.” A sample of this interest in illustrating the Navy in action can be found in the Museum’s Current Exhibit.

Locating illustrations of maritime history

Paintings of ships and maritime views may be found in many works that are not about art, but have used paintings as illustrations of a historical text.

Searching for artists or painters by name is facilitated by dictionaries or encyclopedias. Two such works available at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum research Library are selected here:

Book cover for Marine Paintings and Drawings in the Peabody Museum

The Marine Paintings and Drawings in the Peabody Museum by M.V. and Dorothy Brewington.

The Marine Paintings and Drawings in the Peabody Museum by M.V. and Dorothy Brewington. Published by The Peabody Museum of Salem, 1981. 535 pages, index, illustrations, color and black and white.

The Marine Painting and Drawings in the Peabody Museum is a catalog of visual images of the nineteenth century, especially of the merchant marine vessels of any type; not Navy vessels, but ships used in trade and transport of goods across oceans and on inland waterways. To find an artist or ship, look alphabetically for an artist’s name, or look by port name or vessel name by consulting the Index. The text is rich with information; this is not a book to read but to glean information and data from.

Image of painting by Antonio Jacobsen.

“The Forteviot”, 1896, by Antonio Jacobsen.

Paintings you will find in this book are exemplified by this image, found on Wikipedia, of the Forteviot. The ship is shown in rough seas, with full sun illuminating the sails and careful delineation of the rigging, sails, hull, flags, and other details, a hallmark of the artist, Antonio Nicolo Gasparo, 1850-1921. His style, from the late 1880s to 1920, was extremely popular and is stylistically indicative of the era of sail and early days of steam.


Cover of Dictionary

Dictionary of Sea Painters by E. H. H. Archibald

Dictionary of Sea Painters by E.H.H. Archibald. Published by The Antique Collector’s Club, Ltd., 1989. 575 pages, index, illustrations.

Dictionary of Sea Painters is a resource with an international focus, that identifies artists and their works beginning with Dutch painters of the 1600s and, including painters from all countries, extending through the middle of the twentieth century. The preliminary chapter consists of “Sea Paintings–Identification and Dating” which outlines and illustrates the aspects of marine illustration: flags(shown in full color), ship profiles, picture content, and coastal craft (dated). The dictionary of names follows and finally a chapter of plates, consisting of 932 black and white paintings. Over 30 color plates are interspersed throughout the text.

The Los Angeles Maritime Museum’s collections of paintings and other works of art may be consulted separately: please call the Museum for more information at 310-548-7618.

The Library’s collection on maritime history in art is represented at If you do not see what you are looking for please call the Library for more information at 310-548-7618 x 215.


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