Inspired by the Sea: Maritime Artwork

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The painting above has been missing for twenty five years. Rembrandt van Rijn painted it, and titled it “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” It used to hang in the Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, but was stolen in an art heist in 1990, a theft that removed a billion dollars worth of art from the museum.

Art depicting the sea has been popular for centuries. Rembrandt painted “The Storm” in 1633, part of the Dutch Golden Age, when marine painting was a major genre. A little bit of history explains why: overseas trade and naval power were hugely important to the Dutch Republic, and so began the very first career marine artists, who painted almost nothing else.

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 The Battle of Trafalgar, J.M.W. Turner

The Romantic Age (roughly 1800-1850) saw marine painting surge in popularity. Detailed portraits of ships and the sea were sought from painters such as J.M.W. Turner, for whom painting the sea was an obsession. He was commissioned to paint “The Battle of Trafalgar,” a far cry from the kinds of coastal scenes that followed from other painters, featuring tranquil waters and soft light.

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Lake George, 1862, Martin Johnson Heade

America experienced its own romance with marine art when immigrants, mostly English, came to the U.S. in the 19th century. Their arrival coincided with the coast being regarded as a place of leisure rather than work and danger. Beach scenes, coastal landscapes and river views became more common, especially among the Impressionists.

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New York Yacht Club Race, James Edward Buttersworth

The poet Mary Oliver calls the sea “this enormity, this cauldron of changing greens and blues,..the great palace of the earth. Everything is in it–monsters, devils, jewels, swimming angels, soft-eyed mammals…also, sunk with some ship or during off-loading, artifacts of past decades or centuries…” No wonder we’re fascinated by it!

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 America’s Cup, by Michael Keane

I use marine paintings in many of my client’s homes. Coastal scenes are also found throughout my own home, several depicting places I’ve loved and lived. I’ve written before about some of my favorite painters, including many beautiful works by my friend, Michael Keane.

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Blue Horizon, Michael Keane

No matter where they’re hung, marine paintings bring peace and beauty to a space, lifting us somehow into another place, where we can almost feel the sea breeze.

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The beautiful living room, below, has several fine examples of marine art, including pieces by Antonio Jacobsen and Michael Keane. The portrait to the left is of an 18th century sea captain, another way to bring the seafaring life to your home.

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Bedrooms are particularly good places to hang favorite pieces of marine art, as the soft blues and greens and even the white capped waves can add to the room’s soothing ambiance.

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Painting over mantel is by American artist Tim Thompson

Any room can benefit from a striking marine painting. Here, artwork by renowned oil painter Tim Thompson enlivens the space.

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Another work by Tim Thompson hangs above the sofa in a Nantucket home on the harbor.

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Finding galleries with knowledgeable professionals to assist in buying art is an indispensable part of collecting any artwork. I particularly have loved working with Quidley and Company, both in Boston and on Nantucket Island at 26 Main Street.

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Another favorite gallery is Cavalier Galleries, with locations in Greenwich, Connecticut, New York City, and on Nantucket, at 10 Federal Street.

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A famous gallery known nationwide is J. Russell Jinishian, in Fairfield, Connecticut. Tucked away on a quiet street outside of town, people who know marine art know about this very special gallery just an hour away from New York City. Its extensive inventory includes over 1,000 marine paintings, drawings, sculptures, ship models and scrimshaw, by some of the world’s leading marine artists. Mr. Jinishian will be speaking on marine art on April 24th at 7 p.m. at the Black Rock Yacht Club, Black Rock, Connecticut.

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J. Russell Jinishian Gallery, Fairfield, CT

The beauty of the ocean will always call to us, so maritime art and marine paintings will, likewise, always be sought after. Whether you are fortunate enough to own artwork by an old master, a revered artist who has passed on, or are enjoying the experience of collecting art by some of our wonderful living artists, your home will always be enhanced by your purchases.

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As Mary Oliver says, “…on the water we shake off the harness of weight; we glide; we are passengers of a sleek ocean bird with its single white wing filled with wind.”

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The Last Trap, by Michael Keane

The Sea-Worthy Artwork of Michael Keane

Update to this post: Michael F. Keane, Jr. died unexpectedly on March 28, 2015. The following tribute comes from Quidley & Company Fine Art, a gallery that had been home to the artist and his artwork for many years.

“For the past three decades, Michael brought joy to those who viewed his artwork. His serene and luminous marine paintings portrayed the warmth of summer days spent sailing on Nantucket Sound. Keane had the remarkable ability to transport a viewer: to gaze at one of Michael’s beautiful and obviously lovingly wrought images is to imagine yourself cruising on the open sea–whether on a striped sail Beetle Cat or a majestic J-Class yacht–it’s the next best thing to actually being out there.” 

I hope you enjoy a look at some of Michael’s lovely, peaceful work. His contribution to the art world will never be forgotten. 

Rainbow Run

Part One in an Occasional Series on My Favorite Artists

I love the play of light on sand and sea on Nantucket Island.  It inspires artists here just as the light in the South of France has inspired so many of my favorite artists for centuries; the sunlight shimmers and sparkles in a way that is magical to observe, and I am in awe of those talented painters who can capture it on canvas.

Off Boston Harbor

One of those painters is famed marine artist Michael Keane.  A dear friend for years, and a fine arts painter for over half a century, Michael’s work is eagerly sought after by collectors.  His shows are an established tradition here on Nantucket, where people who love to sail and love the sea appreciate the special affinity he has for painting the world of waves and wind.

The Mighty Twelves

Truly a Renaissance man with so many interests and skills I can’t keep track of them all, Michael’s career as a painter was never pre-ordained.  When it was time for college, although he had painted since childhood, his father insisted he attend a teacher’s college instead of art school, hoping to see his son gainfully employed.  But Michael hated it, and he worked instead at a number of mundane and laborious jobs, including time spent in factories, as an auto mechanic and at a shipyard.

Determined to be an artist, though, he served an eight year apprenticeship with noted landscape painter, Edward Harrigan, and a four year apprenticeship with noted marine artist Marshall W. Joyce.  After that, he studied for four years, and then taught portraiture and figure painting with Clemente Micarelli in his studio.  He majored in Visual Design at UMass and afterward taught painting for 17 years.

Blue Horizon

His break into the art world came with a Best in Show award at a Duxbury, Massachusetts art show.  The painting entered there began a new life for Michael, at a time when he desperately needed it.  In poor health from a rheumatic illness, he was unable to summon the strength to continue his physically demanding day job.

He went to his favorite place on Duxbury Beach, and as he describes it, “Everything was going all wrong.  As I stood there, the sky turned black, and it started to hail and rain.  As I looked across the sea, all of a sudden the light broke through.  It raced across the land in a splash of color.  I knew this was a transcendent moment; I felt I was being told to ‘paint this.’”

The Squall at Gurnet Head

He did quick color notes, which became the inspiration for his painting The Squall at Gurnet Head.  After that, things turned sharply around. Everything he painted flew off the wall.  “It was providential,” he says.  “It all happened when things couldn’t get any lower; it felt like a dream.  Things happened the way they needed to happen, when they needed to happen.”

A Twilight Sail

In explaining his creative process, Michael says he loses all sense of time and space when he works.  “I once did a big painting in less than a week—I felt like I didn’t paint it.  I held the brush, and the brush just went.  As an artist, I’m wide open to what I’m receiving.  It’s a sensitive thing.”

Off Nantucket

People have always been drawn to his work, and although he doesn’t understand all the reasons, he thinks it may be related to the reason that he paints.  “Art should elevate life,” he says.  “That’s the whole point of it.  Fine art should express higher ideals.  We get enough in life to pull us down, art should lift us up.

“Like good music, art lifts you, it changes you, it alters your state of consciousness,” he continues.  “That’s what exhilaration is.”

The Last Trap

Everyone who knows Michael, who loves his work, and who buys his paintings, tells him the same thing.  “They tell me they look at the sky now—they say, ‘you made me look at the sky.’”

I can’t imagine a higher elevation for art, or an artist, than that.

“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky.” –Victor Hugo

You can find Michael Keane’s artwork at Quidley and Co. Galleries in Boston and Nantucket, Massachusetts, and at Russell Jinishian Galleries in Fairfield, Connecticut.