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Famous Ship Paintings – Best Nautical Paintings of Ships at Sea

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Paintings of ships at sea are among the iconic artworks in the world. For centuries, numerous civilizations ruled the world’s waters, sending commercial vessels and ships of war out into the blue horizon; as a result, marine art emerged to depict these adventures and battles. Today, we will celebrate these famous ship paintings and boat paintings by giving them a deeper look. 

Table of Contents

  • 1.1 The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633) by Rembrandt
  • 1.2 The Home Fleet Saluting the State Barge (1650) by Jan van de Cappelle
  • 1.3 Nelson’s Inshore Blockading Squadron at Cadiz (1797) by Thomas Buttersworth
  • 1.4 Battle of Trafalgar (1805) by Louis Philippe Crepin
  • 1.5 A First Rate Man-of-War Driven Onto a Reef of Rocks, Floundering in a Gale (1826) by George Philip Reinagle
  • 1.6 The Fighting Temeraire (1839) by J. M. W. Turner
  • 1.7 Becalmed off Halfway Rock (1860) by Fitz Hugh Lane
  • 1.8 Red Boats, Argenteuil (1875) by Claude Monet
  • 1.9 Breezing Up (A Fair Wind) (1876) by Winslow Homer
  • 1.10 Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries (1888) by Vincent van Gogh
  • 2.1 Why Are Paintings of Ships at Sea Such a Popular Topic?
  • 2.2 What Do Famous Ship Paintings Portray?

Our Favorite Famous Ship Paintings

Nautical paintings commemorate the incredible vessels that once sailed the seas, as well as more subdued sailboat paintings. Over time, these vessels became the lifeline of the economies of nations such as the United Kingdom and Portugal, with their sailors carrying and delivering valuable goods of various types. For over a thousand years, ships of diverse kinds and sizes have sailed the oceans.

Part of what inspires the adoration of so many art lovers and aficionados, especially in coastal areas, is the contrast between brilliant man-made ships and the unpredictability and dangers of the ocean and Mother Nature herself.

Many painters have experimented with creating nautical paintings and their legendary sea excursions throughout history, with others specializing entirely in the theme of nautical travel. Here are our favorite paintings of ships at sea.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633) by Rembrandt

(1606 – 1669)
1633
Oil on canvas
160 x 128
Stolen

This well-known marine artwork was looted in 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The boat painting’s whereabouts are still unknown, and it might never be found again. However, there is some debate around the work. It has been the focus of various theft-related investigations ever since it vanished. During the 1630s, just as Rembrandt arrived in Amsterdam to start his professional career, he created what many believe to be his most dramatic works.

This artwork is an example of this period. Rembrandt picked a Bible narrative to demonstrate the seriousness of his creative ambitions.

Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam with the intention of being recognized for his historical artworks and portraits. Using a New Testament narrative, he illustrated how to blend a historical picture with a seascape. This New Testament incident would have been recognizable to Rembrandt’s contemporaries and, more than likely, admired by them. The suspense produced in the picture, on the other hand, would present the narrative with a totally new and surprising interpretation. This example of innovation and risk-taking by Rembrandt, then 27 years old, set him apart from his colleagues and became the foundation of his creative growth.

Paintings of Ships at Sea

The Home Fleet Saluting the State Barge (1650) by Jan van de Cappelle

Jan van de Cappelle (1624 – 1679)
1650
Oil on panel
64 x 92.5
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

As numerous pilgrims and travelers journeyed to the New World across the Atlantic Ocean in the mid-1600s, seafaring transportation was responsible for shaping the world’s individuals and nations. In his 1650 marine artwork, Jan van de Cappelle caught one significant event from this time period. The picture portrays a variety of ships gathered in a port to honor a major vessel as it set off on its trip.

Cappelle’s artwork is considered among the most famous ship paintings because he captures the water’s capacity to reflect events above its surface in exquisite clarity.

Jan van de Cappelle was a painter of winter landscapes and paintings of ships at sea from the Dutch Golden Age , as well as an entrepreneur and art collector. He is widely regarded as the greatest marine artist of 17th-century Holland.

Boat Painting

Nelson’s Inshore Blockading Squadron at Cadiz (1797) by Thomas Buttersworth

Thomas Buttersworth (1768 – 1842)
1797
Oil painting
63.5 x 99
National Maritime Museum, London

During the second part of the 18th century, the British Royal Navy was at the pinnacle of its nautical power throughout most of Europe and the rest of the world. During this period, the nation’s formidable navy fought in several conflicts off the coast of Portugal as the two countries competed for supremacy of the waterways around coastal Europe and other regions of the Atlantic. In 1797, Thomas Buttersworth produced this picture commemorating a decisive naval fight for British forces off the coastline of Portugal.

Following the historic Battle of St. Vincent, Nelson and ten bargemen were conducting a night attack against Spanish gunboats.

Sailboat Painting

Battle of Trafalgar (1805) by Louis Philippe Crepin

Louis Phillipe Crepin (1772 – 1851)
1805
Oil on canvas
90.93 x 80.78
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

A number of the most famous ship paintings depict bloody sea conflicts between formidable naval forces. This is true of Louis Phillipe Crepin’s 1805 work. This picture shows one of the most well-known naval battles, which occurred in the year the artwork was made. The fight faced the formidable British Royal Navy against two other worthy adversaries—the French and Spanish naval forces—who had collaborated to try to overthrow the overwhelming force that had controlled the waterways surrounding Europe and most of the world at the time.

Crepin’s picture depicts the close-quarters warfare that was common in naval conflicts with exceptional precision.

Famous Boat Painting

A First Rate Man-of-War Driven Onto a Reef of Rocks, Floundering in a Gale (1826) by George Philip Reinagle

George Philip Reinagle (1802 – 1835)
1826
Oil on canvas
102 x 127.2
Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter

The early 1800s were most likely the peak of the legendary ship painting era. George Philip Reinagle was a well-known marine artist noted for his ability to portray the character of the sea’s often violent nature that has wrecked so many big, strong ships throughout history.

His 1826 masterpiece is adequately titled since it depicts a ship caught in the grasp of the surging sea.

One of the most exciting features of maritime travel was the risk that mariners may perish if caught in a raging storm, sometimes known as a gale. This work is famous for Reinagle’s ability to capture the massive, crushing power of the waves, as well as the sea spray whipped up by the fierce winds. This piece serves as a sobering reminder that not all marine exploration and adventure are safe.

Marine Art

The Fighting Temeraire (1839) by J. M. W. Turner

J. M. W. Turner (1775 – 1851)
1839
Oil paint
90.7 x 121.6
National Gallery, London

The early industrial revolution is suggested by the marine artwork’s surroundings. Even though the sky is illuminated, a tugboat is rushing to assist. The tugboat stands for the new era of steam, coal, and fire. Turner’s own emotions and imagination are revealed in the image, which is intriguing and romantic. Although it is difficult to determine the painting’s message, it is unquestionably an important symbol of its time.

Turner’s boat painting features opposing hues that give it a magical or ethereal appearance. In contrast to the gloomy sky, the tugboat pops out.

A little portion of the painting’s bottom is taken up by the water, striking a balance between the sky and water. The Fighting Temeraire , while not well-liked in its day, has grown in popularity over time. A significant character in British art history, John Ruskin, spoke favorably of the piece. Although the artwork was eventually taken off the auction board, many reviewers, including Turner himself, praised it as a masterpiece. Nevertheless, Turner kept promoting his work despite the numerous unfavorable reviews.

Famous Paintings of Ships at Sea

Becalmed off Halfway Rock (1860) by Fitz Hugh Lane

Fitz Hugh Lane (1804 – 1865)
1860
Oil on canvas
70.4 x 120.5
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Several of the most famous ship paintings ever made depict warships engaged in furious conflicts or stuck in tremendous gales on the wide sea. There are, though, a few significant nautical paintings that reflect the placid, quiet character of the ocean or coastal regions. This piece portrays ships tied around Halfway Rock, a prominent maritime landmark located roughly halfway between Cape Ann and Boston.

This place was a popular stopping point for commercial vessels and supply ships since it allowed them to connect with other ships and conduct many forms of maritime commerce at a precise spot.

Famous Marine Art

Red Boats, Argenteuil (1875) by Claude Monet

Claude Monet (1840 – 1926)
1875
Oil painting
61.8 x 82.5
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

Monet depicted the town and outlying areas of Argenteuil during the 1870s, creating images of harmony and beauty that were sometimes at odds with the realities of the time. Despite his belief in en Plein air painting , Monet painstakingly selected the components he wanted to incorporate and often completed his works in the studio.

His works include no hints of the contamination of the river at Argenteuil or the chaos of a community pushing all into its industry.

Monet created the composition in this painting by using boats, particularly the verticals of the masts. Again, he used contrasting colors in the form of oranges, blues, greens, and reds. The painting is vibrant with color, and the blues and purples depict the depth of the sea.

Famous Nautical Paintings

Breezing Up (A Fair Wind) (1876) by Winslow Homer

Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910)
1876
Oil on canvas
61.5 x 97
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

After visiting Massachusetts, where he first painted in watercolor, Homer started this painting in New York in 1873. He utilized the sketches he made there to create an oil painting that he worked on for three years. Infrared reflectography has shown the several composition modifications he made during this period, including the erasure of a fourth youngster near the mast and a second ship in the distance.

The artwork’s theme is upbeat; despite the turbulent seas, the boaters appear to be at ease. The anchor that substituted the person in the bow was said to represent hope.

The youngster at the helm looks to the horizon, an expression of hope for his and the nascent United States’ future. The final piece demonstrates that Homer was influenced by the substantial impact of Japanese art on Western artists in the 19th century, notably in the compositional balance between the dynamic and sparse parts. In 1866, Homer visited France, and the influence of French artists Claude Monet and Gustave Courbet’s nautical paintings is also visible.

Nautical Paintings

Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries (1888) by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)
1888
Oil on canvas
39.5 x 53.3
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

This sailboat painting is a reworking of the artist’s drawing and is one of his most impressive attempts at establishing balance and harmony. The fishing boats stand in sharp contrast to his condition, serving as a source of optimism for the painter as he neared the end of his life. Vincent van Gogh applied his colors with a palette knife, and the contrasting blue and white portions of the water are filled with greens and blues to form the waves. He also produced the boats with a reed pen and added the white and blue colors with big scribbles.

As a result, the picture has a flowing movement and a blend of Impressionist and Realism elements.

Famous Sailboat Painting

Warship and sailboat paintings have always been popular subjects. This is likely due to the fact that ships have played such an important role in the development of civilization. Thanks to artists who are fascinated with these incredible vessels, we have many famous ship paintings to admire nowadays.

Take a look at our ship paintings webstory here!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are paintings of ships at sea such a popular topic.

Ships have played an essential role in the past for humans, helping us explore new lands and peoples. Perhaps it is this sense of adventure and free spirit that artists personally resonate with. Or perhaps creating nautical paintings provides them with the chance to portray both nature and man-man creations.

What Do Famous Ship Paintings Portray?

Some artists depict intense battle scenes from human history. Others prefer to create sailboat paintings that have a more subdued and peaceful atmosphere. Other times, the artwork can have a biblical or mythological tale attached to it. Paintings of ships at sea are not only numerous but diverse in their themes and styles.

isabella meyer

Isabella studied at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English Literature & Language and Psychology. Throughout her undergraduate years, she took Art History as an additional subject and absolutely loved it. Building on from her art history knowledge that began in high school, art has always been a particular area of fascination for her. From learning about artworks previously unknown to her, or sharpening her existing understanding of specific works, the ability to continue learning within this interesting sphere excites her greatly.

Her focal points of interest in art history encompass profiling specific artists and art movements, as it is these areas where she is able to really dig deep into the rich narrative of the art world. Additionally, she particularly enjoys exploring the different artistic styles of the 20 th century, as well as the important impact that female artists have had on the development of art history.

Learn more about Isabella Meyer and the Art in Context Team .

Cite this Article

Isabella, Meyer, “Famous Ship Paintings – Best Nautical Paintings of Ships at Sea.” Art in Context. November 23, 2022. URL: https://artincontext.org/famous-ship-paintings/

Meyer, I. (2022, 23 November). Famous Ship Paintings – Best Nautical Paintings of Ships at Sea. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/famous-ship-paintings/

Meyer, Isabella. “Famous Ship Paintings – Best Nautical Paintings of Ships at Sea.” Art in Context , November 23, 2022. https://artincontext.org/famous-ship-paintings/ .

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Edouard Manet French

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 818

Manet summered at Gennevilliers in 1874, often spending time with Monet and Renoir across the Seine at Argenteuil, where Boating was painted. Beyond adopting the lighter touch and palette of his younger Impressionist colleagues, Manet exploits the broad planes of color and strong diagonals of Japanese prints to give inimitable form to this scene of outdoor leisure. Rodolphe Leenhoff, the artist’s brother-in-law, is thought to have posed for the sailor but the identity of the woman is uncertain. Shown in the Salon of 1879, Boating was deemed "the last word in painting" by Mary Cassatt, who recommended the acquisition to the New York collectors Louisine and H.O. Havemeyer.

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Boating, Edouard Manet (French, Paris 1832–1883 Paris), Oil on canvas

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Boating, Edouard Manet (French, Paris 1832–1883 Paris), Oil on canvas

This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.

Fig. 1. Mary Cassatt, "The Boating Party," 1893/1894, oil on canvas, 35 7/16 x 46 3/16 in. (90 x 117.3 cm) (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Fig. 2. Stop, “La Femme Edredon, par M. Manet, chef de l’entreprise des bateaux coupés” (The Eiderdown-Woman, by Mr. Manet, leader of the business of cut boats), "Le Journal amusant," June 14, 1879, no. 204 (Bibliothèque nationale, Paris) (Repro’d. in Darragon 1991, p. 404, no.339.)

Fig. 3. Edouard Manet, "Boats at Sea, Sunset," ca. 1868, oil on canvas, 43 x 94 cm (Musée d’art moderne André Malraux, Le Havre)

Fig. 4. Edouard Manet, "Argenteuil," 1874, oil on canvas, 149 x 115 cm (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tournai)

Fig. 5. Edouard Manet, "The Swallows," 1873, oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm (Foundation E. G. Bührle Collection, Zürich)

Fig. 6. Edouard Manet, "On the Beach," 1873, oil on canvas, 95.9 x 73 cm (Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

Artwork Details

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Title: Boating

Artist: Edouard Manet (French, Paris 1832–1883 Paris)

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 38 1/4 x 51 1/4 in. (97.2 x 130.2 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929

Accession Number: 29.100.115

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Timeline of art history, couples in art, impressionism: art and modernity, édouard manet (1832-1883), france, 1800-1900 a.d., museum publications.

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Category : Sailing ships in paintings

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Subcategories

This category has the following 14 subcategories, out of 14 total.

  • 15th-century sailing ships in paintings ‎ (2 F)
  • 16th-century sailing ships in paintings ‎ (3 C, 41 F)
  • 17th-century sailing ships in paintings ‎ (16 C, 441 F)
  • 18th-century sailing ships in paintings ‎ (11 C, 385 F)
  • 19th-century sailing ships in paintings ‎ (20 C, 1371 F)
  • Paintings of sailing ships by artist ‎ (2 C, 1 F)
  • 20th-century sailing ships in paintings ‎ (1 C, 161 F)
  • Paintings of sailing ships by Ivan Aivazovsky ‎ (1 C, 104 F)
  • Paintings of carracks ‎ (39 F)
  • Ceiling in Sala das Galés ‎ (33 F)
  • Paintings of junks (ships) ‎ (58 F)
  • Nanbansen (Carrack) ‎ (11 F)
  • The Port of Marseilles by Paul Signac (Hermitage, 1907) ‎ (6 F)
  • Paintings of Sailing ships by Henry Scott Tuke ‎ (42 F)

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The Ocean in Paintings · 10 Great Seascapes

by G. Fernández – theartwolf.com

10- FITZ HUGH LANE “Becalmed off Halfway Rock” , 1869 (Washington, National Gallery) Oil on canvas, 70.4- 120.5 cm .

Considered one of the greatest all-time marine painters, Lane is arguably more of a “naval portraitist” than a traditional seascape painter. In this highly appealing canvas, the artist brilliantly portraits two large ships, accompanied by three support boats, surrounding a little rock that, although small in size, possess a considerable importance in the composition.

Fitz Hugh Lane - Becalmed off Halfway Rock - 1869

9. IVAN AIVAZOVSKY “The ninth wave” , 1850 (St. Petersburg, State Museum) Oil on canvas, 221- 332 cm .

A seascape devoted painter, Aivazovsky reaches in this painting an absolute technical perfection, depicting a group of unlucky castaways trying to survive to the merciless ocean waves. Nevertheless, the centre of the composition is the powerful -almost mystical- and diffuse representation of the sun, which illuminates the scene with a strange, oneiric range of green and pink shades.

Ivan Aivazovsky - The Ninth Wave - 1850

8. CASPAR DAVID FRIEDRICH “The Monk by the sea” , 1809/10 (Berlin Nationalgalerie) Oil on canvas, 110- 172 cm

Contrary to the glorious calm of the work by Lane or the dramatic exuberance of Aivazovsky’s masterwork, here we face a much more difficult work. The notorious horizontality of the picture and the evident contrast in the scale of the monk, almost insignificant when compared to the magnificence of the sea, fill the picture with a quite uncertain romantic message. Is the sea a neutral background behind the monk’s deliberations, or perhaps are we looking at a strange dialogue between the man and the neverending ocean, a mystical mirror of the monk’s thoughts?

Caspar David Friedrich - Der Monch am Meer - 1809-10

7. FREDERIC EDWIN CHURCH “The icebergs” , 1861 (Dallas Museum of Art) Oil on canvas, 163.2- 285.1 cm .

The icy death. Beautiful and exuberant at first glance, this masterwork by Frederic Edwin Church is nevertheless a sinister and ruthless romantic document, showing the remains of a shipwreck in the icebergs, where it really does not matter if the sailors have survived or not: the merciless cold will soon kill them if the violence of the accident has not done it before. The brutal beauty of this canvas makes the Titanic story looks like a bad joke.

Frederic Edwin Church - The Icebergs - 1861

6. RICHARD DIEBENKORN “Ocean Horizon” , 1959 (Private collection) Oil on canvas, 177.8- 162.6 cm .

Diebenkorn’s urban seascapes present a unique and contemporary vision of the ocean: domesticated, friendly, desirable . In contrast with his abstract and more complex Ocean Parks , the Ocean Horizon presents a very simple composition with three evident layers for the land, the sea and the sky; all of them framed in a rectangular window. Following the crooked line marked by the electric lines, the ocean looks as accessible as the little cup of coffee we can see in the foreground.

Richard Diebenkorn - Ocean Horizon - 1959

5. CLAUDE MONET “La terrace de Sainte Adresse” , 1867 (New York, Metropolitan Museum) Oil on canvas, 98.1- 129.9 cm .

This glorious painting presents an curious parallelism with Diebenkorn’s canvas, depicting the sea (here the Atlantic Ocean) as friendly, accessible, even as a recreational area to the relaxed society. Again, the composition is divided in three levels -sky, sea and land- and it is vertically organized by the two large flags fluttered by the ocean breeze. The painting is so delightful that we are immediately tempted to sit on one of the empty chairs to enjoy this sunny Sunday afternoon. Apart from this kind seascape, Monet also depicted the sea full of fierceness and fury in paintings such as “ La Manneporte” .

Claude Monet - Jardin a Sainte-Adresse - 1867

4. WINSLOW HOMER “The Gulf Stream”, 1899 (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art) Oil on canvas, 71.5- 124.8 cm.

All the kindness and charm present in the two precedent canvases is crushed in this devastating painting by Homer. Really, the terrible expressivity -bordering on macabre- of the work makes unnecessary almost any commentary, while we witness the tragic end of this unlucky sailor, depicted with an effective exaggeration, perhaps an evidence of Winslow Homer’s background as a press reporter.

Winslow Homer - The Gulf Stream - 1899

3. THEODORE GERICAULT “The raft of the Medusa” , 1819 (Paris , Louvre) Oil on canvas, 491- 716 cm.

This is one of the most famous French paintings ever. Gericault creates a work that we can define as “politically incorrect”, as it depicts the miseries of a large group of castaways abandoned after the shipwreck of a French naval frigate. We can even say that the picture is not exactly a seascape, but a classic triangular composition in which the human emotions are graduated from the exacerbated hope of those who -situated on the top of the pyramid- have sighted a saviour ship, to the man who -holding the corpse of a young man, perhaps his son- has abandoned any hope and is resigned to wait for death. In Gericault’s work the sea has no charm, no beauty, no kindness: it is the villain, the killer, the predator that -forever looking for new victims- is patiently waiting for its time to kill.

Theodore Gericault - The raft of the Meduse - 1818-19

2. KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI “The Wave” (“The Great Wave off Kanagawa”), c.1830 Woodblock print, 25.4- 38 cm .

Japanese painters and engravers have always offered a different, almost mystical vision of the natural phenomena. The wave is here much more than a mere oceanic circumstance. It is a monster, a giant leviathan threatening with its fangs the agile and audacious ships that cross, flexible, the sea. The terrible ocean’s claw is so powerful that it seems to be about to devour even the sacred Mount Fuji, depicted at the background as another victim of the evil wave.

Katsushika Hokusai - Tsunami - 1830 - Woodblock print - MET Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York

1. JOSEPH MALLORD WILLIAM TURNER “The fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up” , 1839 (London, National Gallery) Oil on canvas, 91- 122 cm .

Turner is the greatest seascape painter from any age, and at least other two or three works by the British painter ( Ulysses mocking Polyphemo , Peace – exequies on the sea…) could easily figure on this list if we had not take the decision of including only one work per artist. Audacious and technically perfect, Turner’s masterpiece is an unusual representation of a royal ship, normally depicted in its maximum splendour like Fitz Hugh Lane did in his seascapes (see number 10), but here Turner tributed the brave Temeraire depicting its last trip before being scrapped. This supreme work was selected as the best painting in England in a poll organized by the National Gallery of London in 2005.

Joseph Mallord William Turner - The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken - 1839

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Marine Café Blog

Claude Monet’s six most splendid paintings of sailboats

by Barista Uno | Nov 15, 2021 | Maritime Art, Culture and History

Claude Monet’s six most splendid paintings of sailboats

Sailboats held as much as fascination for French Impressionist master Claude Monet as water lilies and haystacks . He made several paintings of them. The following, in my opinion, are his most splendid works on the subject. They spotlight not only the beauty and elegance of sailboats. More importantly, they show Monet’s inimitable handling of colour, light and atmosphere.

“For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life – the air and the light, which vary continuously. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value.”

— claude monet, 1891 (as quoted by tate uk ).

sailboats at sea paintings

Sailboat in Petit-Gennevilliers, 1874 Claude Monet (1840–1926) Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A sky exploding with wonderful colours and reflections on the serene waters of the Seine combine to transform an ordinary sailboat into something majestic.

sailboats at sea paintings

Sailboats, regatta at Argenteuil, 1874 Claude Monet (1840–1926) Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Monet used the same pale palette for the sky, the sailboats and the river, adding tints of red for the houses to break the uniformity. Sky and water are dappled, and the boats are appear bunched together as they move gracefully along the river. All this gives the painting a peculiar kind of vitality and charm.

sailboats at sea paintings

Le Havre, Fishing Boats Leaving the Port, 1874 Claude Monet (1840–1926) Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It’s a wet morning, but a crowd has gathered on the waterfront to watch the fishing boats sail out of the harbour to the open sea. The small figures in the foreground make the boats and their proud sails seem like multistoried buildings. This is captivating art with a narrative element.

sailboats at sea paintings

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1868 Claude Monet (1840–1926) Courtesy of Wikiart: Visual Art Encyclopedia

Monet turned an ordinary day in the life of fishermen into a theatrical scene. The boat in the foreground is like an actor making his stage entrance as the curtain of day is raised. The two boats are rendered in dark brown to provide a contrast to the streaks of white light in the sky.

sailboats at sea paintings

The Cliffs at Étretat, 1886 Claude Monet (1840–1926) Courtesy of Wikiart: Visual Art Encyclopedia

This painting — one of many done by Monet of the Étretat cliffs — is bursting  with energy. Small patches of green, yellow and brownish orange are skillfully blended to create the impression of a dynamic but not choppy sea. The brightly coloured sky and the flotilla of small fishing boats accentuate the massive, towering cliffs.

sailboats at sea paintings

Seascape, Storm, 1866 Claude Monet (1840–1926) Courtesy of The Clark, Massachusetts, USA

Seascape, Storm is an early work by Monet that is markedly different in style and technique from his later Impressionist paintings. In lieu of small, swift brushtrokes, the colours are applied solidly with some areas worked with a palette knife. The fishing boat is set against an ominous grey sky, and the sea is mostly a dark green. Just below the horizon line is a long strip of bright green, Monet suggesting perhaps that the storm will blow over, that there is hope.

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Art vs. reality: claude monet’s paintings of étretat.

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10 Most Famous Ocean Paintings

The Ocean covers almost three-quarters of the Earth’s surface and has long been a central focus and source of inspiration for many of the most famous painters throughout history.

The ocean, like any other creature of a person, seems to have its own personality with characteristics like anger, excitement, calamity, gentleness, and other qualities.

Many great artists have sought to portray the ocean and how it interacts with the many different actions and decisions of mankind.

Capturing the sea in all it’s individualistic glory is a tall task for many painters, but the most skilled have found ways to portray the sea and it’s lofty waves in a manner which adds as much intrigue and amazement as any social dynamic that can be imagined by a playwright or other creative artist.

Painting the ocean has presented many different challenges in its own right. Some artists have found it most challenging to depict the calm, still water and its reflective properties while others have sought to show the sea in all its raging glory with giant, dangerous waves and boisterous winds.

Regardless of how the sea is portrayed, there is a significant level of mastery in being able to accurately depict the ocean in its many different forms. Here are 10 of the most famous ocean paintings ever done.

Famous Ocean Paintings

1. the great wave – katsushika hokusai.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa

Painted in 1831, Katsushika Hokusai’s work titled The Wave was one that quickly garnered significant attention throughout the world despite Japan being under a strict period of isolation from much of the world.

This painting is also known as The Great Wave off Kanagawa and focuses completely on the unpredictable and often raging seas near Japan’s famous Mount Fuji.

Hokusai painted this work as a series of scenes he labeled Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. This particular painting was the most famous as it depicted the ocean near Mount Fuji in all its famously unpredictable anger, which filled many sailors with an extreme sense of trepidation at having to sail near this area.

Hokusai chose to paint the work in a gripping blue coloration that mostly features the giant, roaring waves rising and crashing. Mount Fuji is actually visible in the crest of the largest wave as a small, distant landscape that can barely be distinguished from the rest of the ocean’s waves.

The mountain has a strange resemblance to the ocean waves in color, it’s snow-capped peak appearing much like the crest of the waves in the sea.

The artist also includes ships that are also dwarfed by the huge waves around them. The vessel that is in the center of the painting appears to be on the verge of being swallowed by an incoming rogue wave.

2. The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to her last Berth to be Broken Up – J.M.W Turner

sailboats at sea paintings

One of England’s most famous paintings is The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to her last Berth to be Broken Up by J.M.W Turner. This work depicts a point in time when sailed ships had begun to be rendered obsolete by steam and other powered ships that were able to cover distances faster and more efficiently.

Turner saw the fading beauty in this once-might warship’s final passage and painted a scene that lingers in the minds of many British art enthusiasts.

The old warship was known to have played a major role in the Battle of Trafalgar, which was a significant military encounter between the French and British naval forces during the Napoleanic Wars.

Also Read: Famous Ship Paintings

Turner paints the ship as being towed by a single, blackened tugboat as it is being dragged out to a scrapyard to be broken up and parted out.

The artist captures the symbolism of this warship in its former glory being overtaken by the newer, less attractive ship.

The stately HMS Temeraire is much larger than the tugboat and rises from the sea in an elegant manner that seems to fade into the misty background.

3. The Ninth Wave – Ivan Aivazovsky

sailboats at sea paintings

Few paintings have been able to capture the sheer realism of the ocean’s waves and their majestic variable forms that intertwine with the rising and setting sun.

Ivan Aivazovsky was one such artist who managed in 1850 to accurately portray the special beauty of the sea as three castaway sailors struggle to stay abreast of the raging waters.

Aivazovsky is well-known as an accomplished seascape painter and this work, titled The Ninth Wave, is widely considered to be his best.

The title is a reference to an old saying that many sailors believed to be factual that the largest wave would come after a succession of incrementally larger waves, in this case, the ninth.

The painting captures the rare splendor of the sun as it meets the horizon and plays along the ocean’s ever-changing surface. The work portrays the dual nature of the sea as both a beautiful sight to behold, and a destructive force of nature.

4. The Gulf Stream – Winslow Homer

sailboats at sea paintings

Winslow Homer’s painting titled The Gulf Stream is one that accurately shows the picturesque, yet terrifying nature of sea voyages. The painting, completed in 1899, depicts a single man inside a rudderless boat as it drifts along the ocean current amidst a swarm of hungry sharks.

The painting is a grim reminder that life at sea has a considerable level of risk, at any point, but many art critics and enthusiasts have long praised this work for its level of symbolism and detail.

The man in the boat is undoubtedly riding along the Gulf Stream, which is a strong Atlantic current that many sailors credited for bringing ships to and from certain parts of the Caribbean.

With only a few stalks of sugarcane to sustain him, the man appears to be hopelessly lost, unaware of the schooner sailing miles away in the distance to the left of the painting.

5. Impression, Sunrise – Claude Monet

Impression Sunrise

Claude Monet was famous for his ability to paint scenes in a manner that highlighted the many different colors and hues that made up the natural world.

His work titled Impression, Sunrise was done in the classic impressionist style that he was so often known for. This particular painting was first exhibited in 1874 and shows a serene depiction of a harbor at Le Havre.

Monet’s work garnered much attention for his subtle changes and uses of soft coloration to portray the first glint of light shining in the morning sun.

Rather than the large boats being the central focus of the painting, the smaller vessels are shown as being propelled by a single oar over the sparkling water.

6. The Monk by the Sea – Caspar David Friedrich

sailboats at sea paintings

Many times, the ocean appears to blend into the sky and the horizon is disguised by clouds or fog. Caspar David Friedrich’s painting titled The Monk by the Sea is a beautiful depiction of an ocean-side scene that emphasizes the vastness of both nature and God.

This work was painted sometime between 1808 and 1810 and is known as one of the most famous German works from the time period.

Also Read: Famous Beach Paintings

The painting shows a lone monk standing along the sea shore, looking out into the seemingly endless ocean waves before him. The sky takes up most of the canvas while only a small sliver of the land and sea below are visible.

This is thought to indicate the unimaginable nature of the almighty despite our small, finite minds.

7. The Raft of the Medusa – Theodore Gericault

sailboats at sea paintings

One of the most well-known French seascape paintings is Theodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, which was done in 1819. It is one of the most iconic French Romanticism paintings in history and is based on a famous shipwreck that happened off the coast of Senegal in 1816.

The artist heavily researched the incident before putting brush to canvas and took a considerable amount of time thinking about just how he would portray the grim reality of being lost at sea.

Drawing inspiration from two survivors of the shipwreck, Géricault painted a scene that captured a more hopeful outlook than what is actually recorded of the incident.

The surviving sailors of the French Royal Navy frigate told of fighting among the survivors and being forced to resort to cannibalism in the end. This painting centers on the hopeful, yet desperate nature of being stuck at sea.

8. Becalmed off Halfway Rock – Fitz Hugh Lane

sailboats at sea paintings

Painting the sea’s unique reflective nature is often considered one of the most difficult aspects of seascapes that many artists struggle to accurately portray.

No artist captured this characteristic more strikingly than Fitz Hugh Lane in his 1860 work titled Becalmed off Halfway Rock.

Also Read: Lighthouse Paintings

This painting depicts a scene from the New England coast sometime around the 1840’s. Sailors from that time were well-acquainted with a large rock formation that jutted out of the sea nearly halfway between Boston and Cape Ann.

This painting depicts ships lingering near the rock in a calm, almost inviting scene that features a number of warm colors.

9. La Terrace de Sainte Adresse – Claude Monet

sailboats at sea paintings

Claude Monet is known to have spent a considerable amount of time near Le Havre, a port city in France that’s known for its bustling shipping scene that often features a wide array of vessels coming and going.

The artist famously portrayed this coastal landmark in his painting titled La Terrace de Sainte Adresse in 1867.

This painting is praised by art lovers and critics for Monet’s masterful ability to capture the bright sunlight as it illuminates the vast expanse of the ocean waters near Le Havre.

The distant horizon is dotted with a variety of sailing vessels and others that were powered by more modern means during the mid 1800’s.

Monet’s ability to include vibrant, lush greenery along with the deep ocean blue is part of what makes this painting so remarkably famous, especially to those who adore French artwork .

10. Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth – J.M.W Turner

sailboats at sea paintings

Storms are one of the most feared aspects of an oceanic voyage, but they were an inescapable reality for sailors in 1824. J.M.W. Turner painted his work titled Snow Storm during that year and managed to portray the strangely beautiful, yet violent nature of storms on the open ocean.

The painting depicts the swirling winds churning the sea into a choppy nightmare for sailors who had to endure such terrifying realities.

As with most of his oil paintings it uses only the slightest of textures raised from the canvas to give a real depth to the crashing ocean.

This abstract work largely invokes a sense of the overwhelming force that often accompanies storms at sea.

All About Sailing in Painting

Magda Michalska 26 August 2022 min Read

sailboats at sea paintings

Claude Monet, Regatta at Sainte-Adresse , The Metropolitan Museum, New York, NY, USA. Detail.

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Masterpiece Story: Seascape Near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer by Van Gogh

sailboats at sea paintings

Art Travels

Seven Luminist Seascapes to Make You Want a Beach Vacation

I’ve sailed only once or twice in my whole life but I can still remember the empowering feeling of liberation that I felt when on the water. Sailing and sailboats have been a common topic taken up by many artists across decades and countries in painting. Let’s sail with them, bon voyage!

1. On Board with Friedrich

Sailing in Painting: Caspar David Friedrich, On Board of a Sailing Ship, 1820, Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Has this scene filled with light surprised you? Well, in the end, Friedrich is associated more with grey tones and lonely travelers…

2. Renoir’s Sailboats

Sailing in Painting

Some people say that Renoir didn’t know how to paint . Well, I think that works like this one defy this argument, don’t you think?

3. Sea Trip with Courbet

sailboats at sea paintings

Gustave Courbet might be well-known for his provocative works like the Origin of the world , but in fact, he was a great landscape painter who loved depicting water and rocks.

4. Twatchman’s Sunny Vibes

sailboats at sea paintings

When days get too sunny article features another work by J.H. Twatchman . Have a read!

5. Kandinsky’s Folk Sail

sailboats at sea paintings

This woodblock print by Wassily Kandinsky is inspired by folk art from his native Russian Empire.

6. Sail like a Fauve with Vlaminck

Sailing in Painting

Maurice de Vlaminck was a member of the Fauves together with Henri Matisse and André Derain.

7. Provocative Trips with Kokoschka

sailboats at sea paintings

This woodblock print was part of the printed book for children that Oskar Kokoschka made. Yet, it turned out to be very provocative… Why? Read here .

8. Dufy’s Coast City

sailboats at sea paintings

Raoul Dufy was yet another Fauvist and I feel there is going to be an article about him one day here!

9. Abstract Sails by Klee

Sailing in Painting

Paul Klee liked studying the shapes of well-known objects and natural phenomena.

Lichtenstein’s Sea Impasto

sailboats at sea paintings

Lichtenstein and landscapes? Might seem surprising but he was actually a way more comprehensive artist than we think…

  • Caspar David Friedrich
  • Claude Monet
  • Gustave Courbet
  • John Henry Twachtman
  • Maurice de Vlaminck
  • Oskar Kokoschka
  • Pierre-Auguste Renoir
  • Roy Lichtenstein
  • Wassily Kandinsky

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sailboats at sea paintings

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sailboats at sea paintings

Magda Michalska

Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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Sea turtles are under threat from trawlers in the Adriatic. A center offers them a sanctuary

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June 17, 2024, 9:09 AM

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MARINA DI RAVENNA, Italy (AP) — On a crisp morning off the coast of Marina di Ravenna, the Adriatic Sea glistens under the sun as marine biologist Linda Albonetti stands in a gently bobbing boat. Reaching into a plastic tub, she hefts out a sizeable loggerhead turtle and eases it over the side.

The rehabilitated turtle — dubbed “Vulcano” — flaps her flippers energetically as she enters the azure waters and swims to freedom.

The release location is an unlikely haven: an area of methane extraction platforms symbolizing industrial intrusion in the turtles’ habitat. But since fishing is prohibited in the area, it’s a safe place to release turtles after they are treated at the Experimental Center for the Protection of Habitats (CESTHA). The center works to rescue and care for animals injured by trawlers and says its work has benefited more than 300 sea turtles, nearly 700 seahorses, more than 100 sharks and hundreds of thousands of cuttlefish in the past decade.

Loggerheads are found in seas and oceans around the world. In the Adriatic, they are concentrated in the north, a critical feeding ground that overlaps with trawling nets that can trap them underwater. Most of the sea turtles brought to CESTHA arrive with lung problems, though some others have more severe injuries from boat propellers or fishing hooks, Albonetti said.

“Human beings have an impact on natural resources and can also have an impact on protecting them. We are all moved by this,” Albonetti, who sports a “Keep Me Wild” tattoo on her arm, said.

A day at CESTHA

CESTHA is headquartered in a converted fish market close to the Adriatic. It brims with tanks housing turtles under care, softly swishing their flippers against tank walls. In each tank, there’s a small plastic cone that serves to protect the turtles from light as they sleep or nap.

Each patient gets a name: Vesuvio, Bobo, Chanel, Baby Freedom. They come from fishers who found them, children who adopt them, and sometimes from the center’s staff for their obvious characteristics. “Kim Kardashian,” they say, got the name because she’s vain and likes to be in the spotlight. A form attached to her tank reads: “Yes I’m extremely beautiful, enormously beautiful.”

When The Associated Press visited in early June, Albonetti and her colleagues were attending to Cenere, a turtle badly injured four years ago when her carapace was broken and her lung injured by a boat propeller. Cenere, CESTHA’s longest-staying patient, has undergone more than 10 surgeries. The center team devised a 3D-printed shell cover for her broken back.

It’s “a sort of bubble to prevent the wound from coming into contact with water,” center director Simone D’Acunto said. He called Cenere an example of technological development in the care available to sea turtles, which can be costly.

“Our center has a health protocol for each specimen which is quite expensive because all incoming animals are subjected to at least an X-ray and blood tests,” D’Acunto said.

Albonetti prepared meals for the animals from a detailed care plan hung on the wall. The animals get fed once a week, mimicking the way they would eat in the wild.

As a crab was dropped into one tank, the attentive Kim Kardashian moved quickly to snap it up, her powerful jaws making quick work of the creature.

Journey back to the wild

Cenere will remain under care for the next few months before getting additional care at Aquarium Cattolica, Italy’s second-biggest public aquarium.

“Releasing her into the sea like all animals” treated at CESTHA is the goal, Albonetti said, though there’s no definite timeline yet for when she’ll be back in the Adriatic.

Other turtles don’t stay so long before they’re released. In recent years, CESTHA has outfitted two with GPS trackers to gather data to aid their conservation efforts.

The first such turtle to be tracked — Gaia Speed — traveled more than 4,000 kilometers (about 2,400 miles) in the following year, D’Acunto said.

Adebayo reported from Lagos, Nigeria.

The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org .

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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