From Sailor to acclaimed Scene Painter & Marine Artist
The content for Natural Forces: Romanticism and Nature is taking shape and I thought I’d tell you all a little bit more about some of the art works which are going to be included in this up and coming display from 12th July.
Two seascapes that have caught my attention are by the artist Clarkson Stanfield (1793-1867). Stanfield began life as a sailor but due to lack of work, as the ship Hope which he was due to join for a voyage to Madrid never set sail. Due to this he needed to forge a different career path to make the money he desperately needed. He became a scene painter in 1818 as prior to being a sailor he had dabbled with painting and even worked as an apprentice to a painter in Edinburgh. Due to these already acquired artistic skills, he soon became regarded as one of the best marine artists during the Victorian era and in 1827 displayed his work at the Royal Academy for the first time.
Ships were a highly effective mode of transport during the 19th century and were used to create trade routes and to transport goods, among other things, however; the journeys weren’t without their risks. Pirate attacks and extreme weather conditions were a known danger and these subjects appealed to the public’s sense of curiosity and wonder as well as fear. Artists tapped into this appeal and during the 19th century shipwrecks became a popular and familiar theme within marine art. They were painted to highlight mans struggle against the elements rather than as depictions of real life events.
The Last of the Crew, 1853
Manchester Art Gallery, 1920.532
Image ©Manchester City Galleries
One of Stanfield’s paintings that will be on display is The Last Of The Crew (1853), which focuses upon a shipwreck scene. Although not as theatrical when compared to some other shipwreck paintings, it has an ominous, though almost calm atmosphere. It is set in the aftermath of a storm and the ship has been thrown against coastal rocks on which there is one sole survivor. Within the scene there is a clear sense of isolation, desperation and foreboding; the lone sailors fate depends upon the viewer’s interpretation of the work. Do you think he survives or is he destined to become another victim of the sea?
The second Stanfield painting in the show will be a watercolour on paper, Cutting away the Masts: Illustration to Marryatt’s Novel, ‘The Pirate’ (1836). This is being loaned (for 6 months) from the Whitworth Art Gallery especially for this exhibition, so please come and see it while you can!
Included in the exhibition there will be 6 watercolour art works, grouped in sets of 3, which will be on display for 6 months apiece. The reason for this is because of the risk of light damage to the delicate paper pieces.
Cutting away the Masts: Illustration to Marryatt’s Novel, ‘The Pirate’, 1836
Whitworth Art Gallery, D.1887.38
Image ©Manchester City Galleries
One of the most interesting aspects to this exhibition, to me, is how often art disciplines overlap and you can often find paintings and pieces of art work that have direct links to literature; either a novel, short stories or poetry. This connection can be seen between the novel The Pirate, which was written by Captain Fredrick Marryat and Stanfield’s watercolour. Marryat wrote a series of novels titled The Marryat Cycle in the 1800’s and The Pirate was book eight of the cycle and is about two brothers who go off in search of pirates… and find them.
Although I’m not sure which scene in the novel the watercolour illustrates, the subject matter is immensely theatrical and the stormy weather has created chaos as the men aboard are visibly struggling against the elements. The danger that they face is strongly conveyed by Stanfield. You may also be familiar with Herman Melville’s work, Moby Dick? It was written in 1851 during the same period as these two paintings and again, these classic maritime themes feature heavily.
Hopefully this post will not only inspire you to visit this exhibition but also to think about how different creative practices influence each other and inspire beautifully interlinked works of art.
Lori Symcox, Collections Access Assistant