Skip to content

British Marine Painting in the 18th and 19th Centuries

The specialized genre of Marine Art was very popular in Britain during the Romantic period at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries. This period in Britain was one of significant social and political change, both of which played a role in the genre’s popularity with artists and viewers. England at this time was expanding and improving their sea power to compete in the mercantile marketplace and to better defend themselves against a threatening French royal navy. The Napoleonic wars, which were fought largely at sea, brought further interest to maritime endeavors and their depiction in marine art. Many British artists during this period focused solely on painting marine scenes, furthering the popularity of the genre with the public.

Marine painting can be divided into three categories: ship portraits; views of ships (military or mercantile) at sea; and harbor scenes. Many of the views of ships at sea offer visual and narrative drama, depicting sea battles and other maritime military maneuvers. Harbor scenes offer insight into the importance of shipping to British commerce and conquest. Ship portraits were often commission by the ship’s owner to commemorate its launch, or in the case of a military vessel, a specific battle. Several paintings in our upcoming sale are fine examples of British marine art. Highlights include two very fine views of Greenock Harbor by Scottish painter Robert Salmon, two views of ships at sea by another Scottish marine painter, William Anderson, an a battle scene by English painter Samuel Scott. The views of Greenock are particularly good examples of the importance of marine painting as an historical documentation of place. Greenock has a long history of shipbuilding and associated industries. Its port developed into an international import/export center on the coast of Scotland, focused on wool and sugar, that was part of the larger mercantile expansion in Britain.

Back To Top