Tuesday, February 22, 2011


"Ships wrecked, reefs booked" – Michel Leiris

 Ivan Constantinovich Aivasovsky, Moonlit Seascape With Shipwreck, c. 1850

O falee di luna calanteche brilli su l'acque deserte… 

John Constable, Rainstorm over the Sea, 1824

I sat on a rock near the sea. A ship had just put out from shore a fun sail: an imperceptible dot had appeared on the horizon and was gradually approaching, growing rapidly, pushed on by the squall. The storm was going to begin its onslaughts and already the sky was darkening, turning into a blackness almost as hideous as a man's heart. (Lautréamont, Les Chants de Maldoror)

 William Turner, Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On), 1840

In 1840 a conference took place in London to protest against slavery in the United States.Turner, who was since many years a member of the Abolitionist movement, wanted to paint his protest. How would he accomplish this? He goes back sixty years to remind us of one of the most shameful incidents in the history of the British Empire: In 1781, 132 africans, men, women and children, handcuffed and their legs tied up – were thrown overboard into the shark poisened waters of the Carribean Sea because they were nearly starved to death and, therefore, no valuable commodity anymore. The ship’s drinking water was nearly depleted and only supplied to the crew. The captain of the Zong, Luke Collingwood, wanted to collect insurance indemnification for the murdered slaves (slaves, at that time were insured like merchandise). After Zong’s return to England, Collingwood had to face trial – and was acquitted. The reasoning of the court: Because - in a dangereous situation – it is perfectly legal to throw animals overboard, the same reasoning must be applied to slaves.

Ivan Constantinovich Aivasovisky, The Ninth Wave, 1850

His works were highly appreciated by William Turner. He was so struck by the picture The Bay of Naples on a Moonlit Night that he dedicated a rhymed eulogy in Italian to Aivazovsky:

In this your picture
Of a mighty king!
I see the moon, all gold and silver.
Forgive me if I err, great artist,
Reflected in the sea below...
Your picture has entranced me so,
And on the surface of the sea
Reality and art are one,
There plays a breeze which leaves a trail
And I am all amazement.
Of trembling ripples, like a shower
So noble, powerful is the art
Of fiery sparks or else the gleaming headdress
That only genius could inspire!

 Hubert Sattler, 10. März 1835, Orkan auf der Nordsee, 1836

by Robert Louis Stevenson

FAREWELL, and when forth
I through the Golden Gates to Golden Isles
Steer without smiling, through the sea of smiles,
Isle upon isle, in the seas of the south,
Isle upon island, sea upon sea,
Why should I sail, why should the breeze?
I have been young, and I have counted friends.
A hopeless sail I spread, too late, too late.
Why should I from isle to isle
Sail, a hopeless sailor?

 Jean Antoine Theodore Gudin, The Act of Sacrifice made by Captain Desse towards the Dutch ship 'Columbus', 1829

 Caspar David Friedrich, Sea of Ice, 1823

We, the weak mariners of that wide lake
Where'er its shores extend or billows roll,
Our course unpiloted and starless make
O'er its wild surface to an unknown goal.

Shelley, The Witch of Atlas, st. 63

Harry Clarke, Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Poe, 1923

With great difficulty I gained my feet, and looking dizzily around was, at first, struck with the idea of our being among breakers; so terrific, beyond the wildest imagination, was the whirlpool of mountainous and foaming ocean within which we were engulfed … Amid a roaring, and bellowing, and thundering of ocean and of tempest, the ship is quivering, oh God! and — going down. (Edgar Allan Poe, MS found in a Bottle)

 Gustave Doré, Illustration to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere", 1875

And now the STORM-BLAST came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong :
He struck with his o'ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.
With sloping masts and dipping prow,
As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe,
And forward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
The southward aye we fled.
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold :
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.

 Théodore Géricault, A Shipwreck, 1813

 Jakub Schikaneder, Utonulá, 1890

 Winslow Homer, After the Tornado, 1899

Bericht eines Schiffbrüchigen
von Bertold Brecht

Als das Schiff brüchig war
Ging ich in die Wasser. Des Wassers Gewalt
Warf mich auf einen kalten Steinbrocken.
Ich war von Sinnen alsbald.
Währenddem ging meine Welt unter. Zwar
Als ich aufwachte, mein Haar
War schon trocken.
Ich aß aus Muscheln einiges
Und schlief in einem Baum
Drei Tage, die beste Zeit
Und weil ich hatte nichts als Raum
Ging ich weit.
Der Anblick war mir ungewohnt.
Ich berührte nichts mit meiner Hand.
Nach dreien Nächten habe ich den Mond
Wieder erkannt.
Ich hängte ein Tuch in einen Baum
Und stand daneben
Einmal einen Tag und eine Nacht.
Das Wasser war ruhig.
In meinem Tuch war kein Hauch
Es kam kein Schiff
Es gab keine Vögel.
Später sah ich auch Schiffe
Fünfmal sah ich Segel
Dreimal Rauch.

 Warren Criswell, Washed Up, 2000s

And motionless, the sea gulls disappear
Without a cry in far-off whitish throngs;
And now and then, through odors of salt air,
Like voices of the ship-wrecked, dim with fear,
Tremble the weary wings of dying songs.

Gabriele D’Annunzio

 Mihály Zichy, Lifeboat, 1847

Meine Hoffnung
von János Arany

Meine Hoffnung ist ein Nachen
ohne Ruder, ohne Mast.
Sturm und Woge jagt den schwachen
Kahn umher, ohn' Ruh und Rast.

Muß ins Ungewisse treiben
immer, wie es will der Wind.
Er kann meinen Schmerz betäuben,
wiegt er mich doch wie ein Kind!

Bin von Freiheitsluft umfächelt,
wenn ein Regenbogen blinkt,
meiner Phantasie zulächelt
und in ihrem Meer versinkt.

Drum voran auf wilder Welle,
treib der Freiheit zu mein Boot,
ob ich auch am Riff zerschelle,
wo sich treffen Traum und Tod!...

 Ferdinand Hodler, Surprised by the Storm, 1886

Nous sommes embarqués - Pascal 

John Singer Sargent, Atlantic Storm, 1876

 Herbert Barnard John Everett, The Deck of the 'Birkdale' in a Storm, 1920

The Sail
by Mikhail Yurevich Lermontov, 1832

A white sail gleams alone out yonder
Amid the ocean's pale-blue haze...
What quest has driven him to wander?
Why has he left his native bays?
The waves crest as the fresh wind rises,
The mainmast bending in the breeze…
It is not happiness he prizes,
Nor is it happiness he flees!
Beneath, the azure current flowing;
Above, the golden sunlight glows
Perverse, he seeks the storm winds blowing,
As if in storms to find repose!

 Winslow Homer, The Life Line, 1884

Océan de terre par Apollinaire

J'ai bâti une maison au milieu de l'Océan
Ses fenêtres sont les fleuves qui s'écoulent de mes yeux
Des poulpes grouillent partout où se tiennent les murailles
Entendez battre leur triple coeur et leur bec cogner aux vitres
Maison humide
Maison ardente
Saison rapide
Saison qui chante
Les avions pondent des oeufs
Attention on va jeter l'ancre
Attention à l'encre que l'on jette
Il serait bon que vous vinssiez du ciel
Le chèvrefeuille du ciel grimpe
Les poulpes terrestres palpitent
Et puis nous sommes tant et tant à être nos propres fossoyeurs
Pâles poulpes des vagues crayeuses ô poulpes aux becs pâles
Autour de la maison il y a cet océan que tu connais
Et qui ne repose jamais

 Oskar Kokoschka, Die Windsbraut, 1914

This painting shows Kokoschka and Alma Mahler-Werfel as a shipwrecked pair in a small boat in stormy seas. "He satisfied my life and he destroyed it", she said.

Ein gemeinschaftlicher Schiffbruch usw. ist eine Trennung der Freundschaft oder der Liebe. (Novalis, Neue Fragmente, Von der geheimen Welt, No. 2066)

 Oskar Kokoschka, Loreley, 1941

The title Loreley refers to Heinrich Heine's famous poem about a mythical Rhine maiden, who lured sailors to their death. Kokoschka explained that his painting mocks British claims to maritime supremacy:

Britannia no longer rules the waves; inaction has lasted too long; an octopus swims away with a trident, the emblem of marine power. Queen Victoria, who built up the British fleet into a dominant position, rides a shark and stuffs white, brown and black sailors into its mouth. Only the frog on her hand refuses to accept the same fate: it represents Ireland, where there are no reptiles except frogs.

 Max Beckmann, Sinking of the Titanic, 1912

Oskar Laske, Das Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools), 1923

"Renaissance men developed a delightful, yet horrible way of dealing with their mad denizens: they were put on a ship and entrusted to mariners because folly, water, and sea, as everyone then "knew," had an affinity for each other. Thus, "Ship of Fools" crisscrossed the sea and canals of Europe with their comic and pathetic cargo of souls. Some of them found pleasure and even a cure in the changing surroundings, in the isolation of being cast off, while others withdrew further, became worse, or died alone and away from their families. The cities and villages which had thus rid themselves of their crazed and crazy, could now take pleasure in watching the exciting sideshow when a ship full of foreign lunatics would dock at their harbors." (Jose Barchilon's intro to Foucault's Madness and Civilization). A 1962 novel by American writer, Katherine Anne Porter of the same name, set in the autumn of the year 1931, also uses the device of the allegory, and can be seen as an attack on Fascism and a world that allowed the Second World War to happen.The novel was the basis for a 1965 film starring Vivien Leigh and Lee Marvin.

 Joel Peter Witkin, The Raft of George W. Bush, 2007

 Max Beckmann, Journey on the Fish, 1933

After Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933, Beckmann lost his teaching position at the Städelschule in Frankfurt and was forced to retreat into private life. His painting Journey on the Fish is the recognition of the 50-year-old that his destiny was now inevitably bound to that of his second wife Quappi. The doubling of the motifs - fish, persons, and masks (of which one shows Beckmann's profile, the other that of Quappi) - captures the theme of the linked pair. Joined in unity with two fish, the couple seems to stumble towards an abyss, although it is not clear whether they are headed for a black seashore or a dark chasm. The fish played a significant role in Beckmann’s work - as a symbol of phallus, fertility and animal nature. In this painting, the fish may be seen as the couple’s rescuer, leading them to new shores. The work is indicative of Beckmann's life circumstances at the time and a hint of his later emigration.

 Lasar Segall, Emigration Ship, 1939

Segall's work was considered "degenerate" by Nazi Germany and and could no longer be shown in exhibitions. Segall created one of his most famous artworks in 1939, known as Navio de emigrantes (Ship of Emigrants). A ship is overcrowded with emigrant passengers. Their solemn faces and lack of expression  show the brutal reality of emigrants and their depressing voyage to a new life.

Adolf Dietrich, Schiffsuntergang vor Berlingen, 1935
 Richard Eurich, Survivors from a Torpedoed Ship, 1942
Franz Radziwill, Old Cemetary at the Shipyard, 1954 

Le cimetière marin
de Paul Verlaine (fin)

Oui! grande mer de délires douée,
Peau de panthère et chlamyde trouée,
De mille et mille idoles du soleil,
Hydre absolue, ivre de ta chair bleue,
Qui te remords l'étincelante queue
Dans un tumulte au silence pareil
Le vent se lève! . . . il faut tenter de vivre!
L'air immense ouvre et referme mon livre,
La vague en poudre ose jaillir des rocs!
Envolez-vous, pages tout éblouies!
Rompez, vagues! Rompez d'eaux réjouies
Ce toit tranquille où picoraient des focs!

Edward Ruscha, Untitled (galleon ship silhouette), 1986

Richard Wagner, Der fliegende Holländer

Durch Sturm und bösen Wind verschlagen,
irr' auf den Wassern ich umher -
wie lange, weiß ich kaum zu sagen;
Schon zähl' ich nicht die Jahre mehr.
Unmöglich dünkt mich', daß ich nenne
die Länder alle, die ich fand:
das eine nur, nach dem ich brenne,
ich find' es nicht, mein Heimatland!

 Ferdynand Ruszczyc, Nec mergitur (Legenda żeglarska), 1904

La nave o proa entonces
surgio de los desiertos,
navegaba hacia el cielo:
una punta de piedra dirigida
hacia el insoportable infinito,
una basilica cerrada por los dioses perdidos....
Solo hasta alli llego mi viaje:
mas alla empezaba la muerte.

Pablo Neruda, "La Nave"

 Cagnaccio di San Pietro, L'alzana, 1935

 Jean Brusselmans, Thunderstorm, 1938

 Sigmar Polke, The Captain and the Burning Ship, 1973

 Anselm Kiefer, Odi Navali, 2005

"My dear friend, what is this our life? A boat that swims in the sea, and all one knows for certain about it is that one day it will capsize. Here we are, two good old boats that have been faithful neighbors, and above all your hand has done its best to keep me from "capsizing"! Let us then continue our voyage—each for the other's sake, for a long time yet, a long time! We should miss each other so much! Tolerably calm seas and good winds and above all sun—what I wish for myself, I wish for you, too, and am sorry that my gratitude can find expression only in such a wish and has no influence at all on wind or weather!" (Friedrich Nietzsche, Letter to Franz Overbeck, November 14, 1881)

 Andrew Wyeth, Adrift, 1982

A man adrift on a slim spar
A horizon smaller than the rim of a bottle.
Tented waves rearing lashy dark points
The near whine of froth in circles.
God is cold.

Stephen Crane

via http://sailorjunkers.com/

From these random slips, it would seem, that Pierre is quite conscious of much that is so anomalously hard and bitter in his lot, of much that is so black and terrific in his soul. Yet that knowing his fatal condition does not one whit enable him to change or better his condition. Conclusive proof that he has no power over his condition. For in tremendous extremities human souls are like drowning men; well enough they know they are in peril; well enough they know the causes of that peril; -- nevertheless, the sea is the sea, and these drowning men do drown. (Herman Melville : Pierre, Or, The Ambiguities)

 John La Farge, The Strange Thing Little Kiosai Saw in the River, 1897

 Antonio Muñoz Degrain, Motherly Love, 1912

 Francis Danby, The Deluge, 1837

 Dexter Dalwood, The Deluge, 2006

Maurice Maeterlinck - Chanson de Mélisande, de Serres chaudes, 1889

L'eau qui pleure et l'eau qui rit,
L'eau qui parle et l'eau qui fuit,
L'eau qui tremble dans la nuit...

 Ena Swansea, Rowboat, 2010

 John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, 1778

 Winslow Homer, The Gulf Stream, 1899

 Sean Landers, Alone!, 1996

Sea, The
by Lewis Carroll

There are certain things -a spider, a ghost,
The income-tax, gout, an umbrella for three -
That I hate, but the thing that I hate the most
Is a thing they call the SEA.


  1. At one stage I had been writing a number of posts about tragic ship wrecks eg

    http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com/2010/03/empress-of-ireland-1914-shipping.html#links and


    but I hadn't thought of analysing shipwrecks in art. We need to see how artists had represented very real events in history.

    Many thanks for the links,

  2. such a great post. what tremendous art! thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Here’s hoping this message gets through to you. I’m an art history teacher and find your site fascinating. But also wrote a book about evening gardens and wanted to let you know that the only painter in my ken who is remotely accurate at painting scenes under moonlight is Ralph Blakelot. The human eye cannot detect color under moonlight because color in the retina is deciphered by cells called cones. Black and white is visible to cells called rods. Moonlight is too weak to activate the cones so under the moon the eye only sees black and white at night. You can easily test this out by taking a colored ball or an orange, or a geranium flower (for example) out into the moonlight and you’ll quickly notice any object is seen in shades of gray. Oh, well, life is short and art is long.

  4. You have a beautiful style. Thank you, merci, danke, grazie, graçias...

  5. The last line of Océan de Terre is incorrectly quoted here. It should read:
    "Autour de la maison il y a cette océan que tu connais
    Et qui ne se repose jamais."
    The "se" is missing.

  6. Now this is what I call a blog, simply outstanding.

  7. U should put Bas Jan Ader

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