Our Five Favourite Seascapes: Old and New

Numerous artists’ unique depictions of land, sea and sky have contributed to a vast and varied collection of artworks that both educate and challenge the viewer’s perception of the wild landscapes. Over centuries, creative minds have explored the relationship between the elements, experimenting with light, depth and atmosphere as a motive to visually describe the observed mood of a landscape as though it had its own emotions. 

We as viewers have the privilege to enjoy a wide range of styles depicting different aspects and interests related to these watery landscapes, through lenses of historical documentation, conceptualism and beauty. Here are some of our favourite pieces created by artists over centuries. 

Magnitude” 2022
(Newcastle upon Tyne, Hancock Gallery)
One of the latest works of Claire Wiltsher's 'Bound in Time' collection, available to view at Hancock Gallery from 3rd November, 2022. Claire's work centres predominantly around the wild ever-changing behaviour of the landscape around her. Inspired by land, sea and sky, Claire's work reflects the movement of light and elements as though they're living beings. Poetry often accompanies her work to further convey an idea or meaning, and work is mostly created on square canvases, which the artist says brings balance to her wild work. Her decisive abstraction draws in the viewer, allowing imaginative interpretation to take over.


“The fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up”, 1839 (London, National Gallery)

Considered the greatest seascape painter from any age, Turner’s daring decision to represent Temeraire on her final voyage before being scrapped was unorthodox for his time. The early-mid 1800s would usually see royal ships depicted in maximum splendour, the pride of the country and a bold extension of the crown. The audacious decision created a piece both visually beautiful and humbling. The painting portrays a vulnerable honesty of Britain’s fleet, without undercutting the glory and stature it was known for. A National Gallery of London poll in 2005 declared this piece the ‘Best Painting in England’.


“The ninth wave”, 1850
(St. Petersburg, State Museum)
A painter devoted to his technical mastery of portraying seascapes, Aivazovsky depicts an unlucky group of castaways clamouring to survive amidst the unforgiving ocean. The artist created an emotional and thought provoking scene with the juxtaposition of the beauty of the sun, set in with dreamy pink skies, illuminating the violent and desperate narrative in the foreground.


“The Wave” (“The Great Wave off Kanagawa”), c.1830

Well known for their almost mystical vision of natural phenomena, Japanese painters and engravers depict landscapes in narratively powerful imagery. Hokusai’s monstrous wave almost incorporates properties of demonic mythical creatures with claws and sharp fangs represented in the jagged foam as they tower above the helpless boats below. Similar to the Reaper’s clawed hand prepared to grasp the souls below, the terrifying swell seems able to equally engulf Mount Fuji, depicted in the background of the piece, even overpowering the contrasting calm skies above. Hokusai’s mesmerising imagery perfectly captures the relentless power of the sea over all: land, sky and man.


“Ocean Horizon”, 1959
(Private collection)
Diebenkorn’s urban seascapes present a unique and contemporary vision of the ocean: domesticated, friendly, desirable. In contrast with his abstract and more complex Ocean Parks, the Ocean Horizon presents a very simple composition with three evident layers for the land, the sea and the sky; all of them framed in a rectangular window. Following the crooked line marked by the electric lines, the ocean looks as accessible as the little cup of coffee we can see in the foreground.

Claire Wiltsher’s ‘Bound in Time’ series can be viewed online now, with an exciting preview event on 3rd November from 4pm - 6pm to launch the new exhibition in the gallery.

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