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British Marine Painting

Alfred Lys Baldry & C. Geoffrey Holme

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
TO most people it will seem quite natural that British artists should give much attention to marine painting. The sea plays a very important part in our national affairs, influences the character of the people, and affects the political policy of the country, so almost as a matter of course it has its place among the sources of inspiration for our native art. Sea painters of the higher rank have come with scarcely an exception from countries which have an extended coast-line and in which the seafaring habit has been developed by centuries of maritime activity—countries in which the use of the sea for purposes of commerce or communication has been a necessity. Dutch artists have painted the sea and shipping and incidents in the life of the dwellers on the coast with skill and distinction; there have been sea painters in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, some in France, a few in Italy and Spain; but it is in the British Isles most of all that the possibilities of marine painting have been recognized and the pictorial material that the sea provides has been turned to full account. No doubt this is partly due to the fact that British art has concerned itself very greatly with what may be called the physical characteristics of the country. A considerable proportion of our painters have been devoted students of nature, and have occupied themselves with records of British scenery, and of those subtle effects of atmosphere and illumination which are the product of the variable British climate. Responsive themselves to the charm of their surroundings, they have catered for a public which appreciates the beauties of nature and likes to see them realized pictorially; lovers themselves of the land in which they live, they have striven to please the many people who are possessed by a similar sentiment and wish to have about them pictures in which this sentiment is agreeably reflected. No record of British scenery could be complete, and no appeal to British sentiment could be effective, if our artists ignored the wide variety of subjects which the sea offers them. For the sea is with us a tradition, and the love of the sea is one of the strongest of our national instincts. Because we live on an island the sea is at the same time our protection from those who might seek to do us harm and our means of communication with the rest of the world; it safeguards us against dangers to which other less fortunately situated countries are constantly exposed, and yet it puts us directly in touch with even the most remote and apparently inaccessible peoples. Therefore we regard it naturally as a friendly influence in the lives of us all. But we owe it a debt of gratitude also for the effect it has had upon our British art. It is from our insular climate, from the mists and moisture which the sea brings, that those atmospheric qualities come which make the study of nature in the British Isles such a never-ending delight. It is the surrounding sea that encourages the rich growth of our vegetation, and that gives to our landscape its wealth of detail and its ample variety of colour. As the sea influences the manner of our national life, so it influences the quality, the sentiment, and the method of our art, helping us to build up a school which is insular in its merit and its expression, and national in its feeling and its intention. Yet, curiously enough, in the earlier period of British art history the names of few painters are recorded who perceived the pictorial interest of the sea or tried to realize its beauties. Indeed, at the beginning no attention was given to the study of open-air nature; landscape painting was not attempted seriously, and the study of atmospheric effects was generally disregarded.