Freshening Wind Jura Inner Hebrides or Western Isle Scotland oil on canvas
For me, seascapes form themselves naturally into paintings. I think that there is just a couple of reasons for this. The fluidity of both medium and subject matter, a visually simplified narrative which stirs up complex emotions in me and most of all in my studio when I’m at work painting a seascape I find myself more at peace, alive to fewer distractions, happier in mind and concerned fully with exploring a known sense of place.
Seascape paintings have been coveted by collectors for centuries, and today, they continue to be one of the most popular subjects on the market. “Their popularity is attributed to many reasons: they speak a common language, they celebrate the majesty of the natural world, and they often are simply beautiful,” says Joshua Eldred, President of Eldred’s. American and European Paintings Dept Eldreds Auction House Boston.
“A classic seascape is unpretentious yet versatile, requiring little explanation to the viewer while simultaneously possessing the ability to portray a subtle message. Because of their lasting popularity, the market is filled with seascapes spanning numerous centuries and countless styles,” he says.
A seascape is simply a work of art in which the ocean or major body of water is one of the central elements of the work. Falling under their own genre, seascapes’ close cousins, marine and maritime paintings, focus more on ships or other manmade objects in a narrative composition says Lisa Thomas, Director of Fine Arts at Stair Galleries. “Seascapes depict a view of the sea or coastline, often without figures, and with an eye towards emotion and sensibility rather than narrative or figural depiction,” she adds.
“As a genre, the seascape is arguably a broader category than maritime or marine art, and typically encompasses watercolours, drawings, and paintings in which the sea – and therefore nature itself – is the primary subject. A coastal view with rocky shore is an example of a traditional seascape, though such a work might feature a ship in the distance along the horizon line,” says David Weiss, Head of European Art & Old Masters at Freeman’s. The minimal treatment of ships, people, and manmade objects in a seascape, says Eldred, is meant to serve as reminders of man’s insignificance in relation to the larger world.
Not all seascapes are created equal. What makes a desirable and valuable seascape painting? Leaving the artist aside, Joshua Eldred shared his expertise on some of the elements the most sought after seascapes include.
Known location. Paintings that are either titled or depict easily identifiable landmarks that can pinpoint a location are often more desirable than a generic seascape. Collectors will often identify with a location, and artists, too, are often associated with a particular geographic area, so paintings outside of these areas are often harder to sell.
Format. Many seascapes are painted in panoramic format with a 2:1 ratio in length to height. While there are exceptions to any rule, horizontal paintings almost always bring more than vertical ones.
Light. The most valuable seascapes often include brilliantly lit skies from a sunrise or sunset. Paintings with dark and stormy skies are usually less valuable.
Subject Matter. While artists like Frederick J. Waugh specialized on almost exclusively on waves, the most popular seascapes tend to incorporate aspects of the landscape, land, sky as well as small human elements. Artists like John F. Kensett and Alfred Bricher were masters at depicting man’s smallness in nature and their works are some of the most sought after seascapes to this day.