Top 10 Famous Ship Paintings from the Age of Exploration and Conquest

Famous Ship Paintings: Within the realm of painting and sculpture, marine art, or ship paintings, occupy a sizable niche. These paintings reflect a multitude of subjects, concepts, emotions, and historical periods, such as ships engaged in combat, commerce vessels gliding over the horizon, historical exploration vessels, pirate and mighty general ships, and so forth.

The majority of the world’s well-known ship paintings originate from the 16th to the 18th centuries, during the Age of Exploration and Conquest. During these eras, the shipping industry underwent a revolution due to the swift progress made in nautical technology. A large number of new ships were being built to meet the demands of strong naval nations such as Portugal, Spain, and eventually the British Empire.

These mercantilist economies relied heavily on ships of this era, which facilitated trade between South East Asia, the Americas, and Europe. That could be the reason why both art aficionados and history buffs find ship paintings intriguing.

Let’s examine the top 10 well-known ship paintings in the world in this post.

Top 10 Famous Ship Paintings

The Valiant Temeraire was pulled to her final berth and split up (1838) - Ship Painting

1. The Valiant Temeraire was pulled to her final berth and split up (1838)

One of the most well-known works of art by the English painter Joseph Mallord William Turner, it shows the final journey of the 90-gun HMS Temeraire, the premier vessel of the Admiralty, as it is being towed from the Thames River to Rotherhithe in London in order to be demolished.

The 1838 oil painting on canvas attracted a lot of interest from viewers and art enthusiasts because of its vibrant color scheme and symbolic meaning. It was painted during the Romantic era and depicted the advent of steamships.

The seasoned ship, which the opposing governments once despised, was crucial to the outcome of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, which pitted the combined fleets of the Spanish and French Navies against the British Royal Navy.

The artwork makes it clear that the warship was sold to a private firm in 1838, as evidenced by the fact that it was over 40 years old and flying a white flag rather than the union flag. It was displayed in 1839 at the Royal Academy with a sentence that Turner had taken from a poem by Thomas Campbell. “Young Mariners of England: The Flag that braves the wind and battle is no longer owned by her,” it read.

The question of whether Turner imagined the scene or observed it being tugged is up for debate. Still, he did a commendable job portraying the magnificent old cruiser that was formerly the pride of the British Naval force.

The original is on display at the National Gallery of London, and it was printed on the new £20 banknote in 2020.

History of Boats: From Ancient Vessels to Modern Ships

2. The Storm on the Sea of Galilee

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee

One of the most significant thefts of artwork in history is the oil painting by Dutch Baroque painter Rembrandt Van Rijn from 1633. The tranquil piece represents the biblical story found in the holy book, in which Jesus calms the storm on this sea. It is the lone seascape painting by the artist. But in 1990, it was taken from the Boston-based Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

The painting is still gone, and the reason for its theft is still a mystery. It has, nevertheless, made headlines quite a bit.

It depicts Jesus sitting calmly while his disciples struggle to keep their cool under a strong storm that has capsized their boat. They are anxious, but they try not to show it. They only trust Jesus to get them through this difficult situation.

Many people find the artwork to be spiritual even if it is not particularly dramatic or thrilling. Rembrandt’s portrayal of the disciples’ emotions and feelings is exquisite.

3. A First Rate Man-of-War Driven Onto a Reef of Rocks, Floundering in a Gale

A First Rate Man-of-War Driven Onto a Reef of Rocks, Floundering in a Gale

Ship paintings became popular in the eighteenth century, when they were typically commissioned by affluent clientele other than Royals, such as merchants. But occasionally, the artists’ works also included representations of well-known ships. Painter George Philip Reinagle, renowned for his captivating seascapes, created one such masterpiece.

He emphasized the ever-changing nature of the oceans and the strength and might of the waves that tore apart many renowned ships, in contrast to other artists who concentrated on the vessel.

True to its title, his 1836 artwork depicts a ship engulfed in the furious, turbulent waves.

It also draws attention to one of the riskiest parts of maritime travel: the potential for fatalities in the event that sailors are caught in a violent storm, often known as a gale.

Since it presents a scene that appears to be unfolding right in front of the viewer, this piece of art has become famous. It also helps to visualize the sheer number of lives that the high seas must have claimed in those days.

4. Becalmed off Halfway Rock

Becalmed off Halfway Rock

The majority of ship paintings show ships fighting each other in naval conflicts or ensnared in strong waves at sea. Still, very few capture the placid and tranquil quality of the oceans.

Fitz Hugh Lane’s picture from 1860, which masterfully depicts a sight that individuals outside of the maritime world can never see, is one example of such a piece of art. It shows a ship near Halfway Rock, a well-known landmark that connects Boston to Cape Ann.

It was a well-known location for supply and commerce ships to stop. At this moment, they could not only market their business and catch up with other boats, but it also gave the sailors a chance to unwind and refresh on shore.

In the image, two large ships are anchored, and three smaller boats are seen sailing around, seemingly handling the cargo that the larger ships are transporting. The National Gallery in Washington, D.C. is presently home to this painting.

5. Breezing Up 

Breezing Up 

A Fair Wind/Breezing Up, an 1873–1876 painting by Winslow Homer, depicts a catboat containing three boys and a man. In the US, this picture is among the most recognizable. Although it depicts strong waves and has great meaning, the individuals on the boat appear composed and in command of the circumstances.

As a result, the piece has a certain optimism, and despite its small size, it accurately captures the essence of American life at the time. It is said that the anchor in the ship’s bow represents hope for the prosperous future of the just created United States.

Breezing Up Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain via
The picture illustrates how, in the 19th century, Japanese art forms began to have an increasing impact on European painters. Homer traveled to France in order to study the paintings of Claude Monet and Gustave Courbet, two of his contemporaries, for inspiration. After it was finished in 1876, the picture displayed a lot of the era’s inspirations.

6. The Home Fleet Saluting The State Barge

The Home Fleet Saluting The State Barge

One of the most well-known artists, Jan Van de Cappelle, effectively conveyed in his paintings the essence of maritime voyage and the intense feelings that go along with it. He depicted ships and clouds across the horizon instead of stern waters or clear skies.

Seafaring or maritime travel acquired popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries, and many people appeared to make significant riches from it. Communities and recently formed nation-states were also modeled. Additionally, seafaring exploratory missions enabled numerous cultural contacts between individuals and various religious and ethnic groupings.

Is the Queen Mary Ship Haunted? Growing Reports of Ghostly Apparitions on Famous Luxury Liner

The Dutch painter Cappelle was well-known for his depictions of rivers or seascapes with lots of ships visible. This particular piece depicts a row of anchored boats with two yachts saluting the sailors or officials in a state-owned barge who pass by. The image of the passengers and the vessel is reflected in the serene, nearly crystal-clear ocean.

The 1650 painting, which shows a few ships parked in port and greeting a ship departing on its journey, illustrates how common sea travel had grown for a variety of reasons, including the Dutch Empire.

7. Seascape in the Morning

Seascape in the Morning

Simon de Vlieger painted the picture between 1640 and 1645. Vlieger, who was born in Rotterdam in 1601, describes a story of deliverance following hardship in “Seascape in the Morning.” The colors of the sky are used by the artist to depict this.

The painting’s right side has a dark sky with a sailor or seaman aboard a broken boat. There’s a fire visible, a boat making its way to the coast, and a few boats waiting in the distance. A male figure is standing; it is unclear if he is doing so in gratitude or in anticipation of rescue.

Seascape in the Morning: Public domain, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, and
There is a big ship in the center that is moving toward the horizon, and as it gets closer to the horizon, the other ships start to look like phantoms.

The white light that streams down from the clouds depicts the horizon as being compassionate. It’s dawn, and it appears that the ships made it through a rough sea during the night.

Many view it as if it were a sacred painting, full of hope. It depicts human suffering in this life, hardships, and the hope for paradise in a most lovely way.

8. Dutch Men-O’-War and Other Shipping in a Calm

Dutch Men-O’-War and Other Shipping in a Calm Ship Paintings

Dutch painter Willem van de Velde II gained recognition for his maritime paintings created in the seventeenth century. At the period, naval fleets were an essential component of a country’s military might, and warships symbolized the pinnacle of human technological advancement.

His 1665 painting, “Dutch Men-O’-War and Other Shipping in a Calm,” depicted the vast fleet of naval ships of the Dutch navy, including the much-feared and despised Men-O’-war ships.

Known for their ability to quickly overrun opposing ships, coastal forts, villages, and cities, they were referred to as floating fortresses armed with weaponry.

Numerous of these ships are depicted in the painting, all loaded with captains and crews, symbolizing the Dutch navy’s might.

While it never really had a defined definition, the phrase “Men-O-War” was used to describe a ship with cannons that typically sailed rather than a galley with oars.

9. The Slave Ship Painting

The Slave Ship Paintings

“The Slave Ship,” one of J.M.W. Turner’s most well-known and celebrated pieces, is a stunning but incredibly depressing painting that captures the terrible reality of the era. The painting appears normal at first glance, depicting a sailing ship engulfed in a storm. The ship’s narrow masts suggest that it could capsize at any moment, while the sky’s usage of red and black evokes a sense of impending death.

It is a tragic vessel, and the artwork captures a heartbreaking scene. The manacles on one of the slave men suggest that the victims on board the vessels are slaves who have become trapped in a sinking ship, according to the artwork. Turner used powerful, vibrant colors and precise brushstrokes to convey the emotions underlying the picture, even though the landscape is blurry.

Ancient Greek Ship History: From Ancient Ships to Modern Transportation

Events of this nature were not unusual. In those days, ships carrying slaves were occasionally intentionally destroyed to prevent the captives from contracting diseases. Even if it is the height of cruelty, these kinds of instances were typical at the time.

Turner drew inspiration from incidents such as the Zhong Massacre, in which the slave ship’s crew hurled numerous demonstrators and 54 female slaves, including some children, out the portholes.

10. Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saints-Maries

Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saints-Maries

Van Gogh painted numerous paintings while visiting Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer on the Mediterranean Sea in 1888, including the captivating “Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saints-Maries.” Less than a hundred families called Saintes-Maries home during that period. It was a fishing community.

He drew the boats using a reed pen, and the way he did it shows how much Japanese prints influenced him. The picture portrays peace and balance, while the seashore setting reflects the people’s daily lives in the area. Despite his illness, his seascape paintings offered a glimmer of optimism that he would get to appreciate the things he loved before he passed away.

Saints-Maries Beach Fishing Boats Image courtesy of Creative Commons Netherlands
He applied color with a palette knife. Waves are created by superimposing green and blue with the white and blue sections of the sea. This makes it appear realistic as well as appealing and fantastical.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top