All At Sea Part 1

Dutch Influence


Marine painting has not always been popular. It was not until the 17th Century with the rise of the Golden Age of painting in Holland that what we regard today as true marine painting developed and came to the fore.

In Western Europe marine painting began with scenes in early illuminated manuscripts; ships loaded with apostles or pilgrims frequently appear in the background of Gothic religious painting. By the end of the16th Century this had developed into accurate descriptions of busy ports and harbours in places such as Antwerp and Amsterdam. By the following century, parallel to the rise of landscape painting in Holland, artists had turned their eyes to the skies, estuaries and the open sea where the expanse of sky offered a variety of mood and atmosphere.

The Ferens Art Gallery's collection of marine paintings is strongly influenced by the artists of the Netherlands. Artists such as Isaac Sailmaker, who was one of the early marine painters, adopted the 'pageant' style of Dutch marine painting depicting an array of fine vessels. This was the first of the styles to be adopted in Britain.

A New Style


Two Dutch artists in particular were central in creating a new style of painting in England. They were father and son; both called William van de Velde, who travelled to England to depict for Charles II the growing might of the British naval and merchant fleets.

The younger Van de Velde set the fashion for painting the action of wind and storm as well as the fighting of the naval battles of the Anglo-Dutch. Hull's example, showing a stage in the Four Days' Battle of 1666 is comparatively calm. Works such as Charles Brooking's 'Squadron Going to Winward' borrows from a Van de Velde composition whilst the paintings of Thomas Luny, later on, depict more conventionalised variants of this style.

Marine Painting and the Whaling Industry


As Brooking had been influenced by the Dutch artist he, in turn, came to influence the earliest known Hull artists. By the end of the eighteenth century local ships were not battling with the Dutch but with the arctic conditions in the hunt for whales. It is unlikely that an artist ever went to the arctic to witness the whalers in action but we do know that one of the best early whaling paintings 'The Fleet of Sir Samuel Standidge', by an unknown artist, is based on a composition by Brooking that was readily available as an engraving.

Although Hull whalers were clumsy conversions compared with the elegant clippers and schooners of the Indian and Transatlantic trade by the end of the eighteenth century it was common for ship owners to commission a portrait of their vessels. Most of the artists who took up this work were local artisans, sign painters, house painters and ship painters and although they had no formal training they at least possessed real knowledge of the subject that they were asked to paint.