Muskegon Museum of Art

Muskegon, MI



Across the Waves

by James Houghton, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, Muskegon Museum of Art


"Across the Waves" presents a broad range of artists who have explored the rich visual imagery of ships and the lakes and seas. Although the styles of the artists differ widely, they have in common their interest in the watery world. Since Across the Waves helps celebrate Tall Ships Challenge Muskegon 2001, it is fitting that many of the paintings, drawings and watercolors present ships and the sea as physical facts -- the records of actual ships, places and events.

Other works are visual metaphors that record mankind's changing relation to the sea. The artists portray the forces of nature and man's efforts to control, or at least contend with, them. Some artists have called attention to the predictability and harmony of the sea; others conversely, to its rash and destructive power.

Across the Waves examines humanity's dependence upon and fascination with the seas. Water is the source of life, necessary both for the physical survival and psychological enrichment of mankind. The seas and the Great Lakes have shaped how mankind lives, works, plays, thinks and creates.



English marine painter Montague Dawson nostalgically recorded the appearance of the most famous clipper ship in Landfall - The Cutty Sark and the American photorealist Ron Kleeman precisely rendered a contemporary work boat in Texas Tug. The Muskegon artist Victor Casenelli documented our gone-but-not-forgotten landmark in his painting Pigeon Hill. Walter Shirlaw depicted the Lake Michigan shoreline in Sand Dunes. In the Thames at Woolwich, English artist George Clausen portrayed the river that bisects London while the great 19th century painter J.M.W. Turner depicted an Italian port in Spezia. Eleanor Van Haitsma celebrated the 4th of July in Happy Birthday Lady. (left: Gunnel Under by Montague Dawson, oil on canvas, collection of the Muskegon Museum of Art )



Zoltan Sepeshy closely rendered the toil necessary to earn a living as a Great Lakes fisherman in Mending Row while William Shayer romanticizes manual labor in Fisherfolk on the Beach. Both Winslow Homer in Perils of the Sea and Montague Dawson in Gunnell Under demonstrated that earning a living on the high seas is fraught with danger and even terror.



While some artists have seen the sea as a place of toil, danger, and even death, others have seen the sea as a place for pleasure and joy. Tunis Ponsen showed the anticipated pleasures of sailing on a bright day in Yacht Club Pier.



Other works serve as metaphors of nature. John Marin evoked the energy of nature in the bright colors, jagged shapes and zigzag lines in Looking Toward Mt. Desert, Maine, while Leon Dabo captured the introspective and somber mood of nature through his dull colors and mere suggestions of nature in Nassau Beach. Other artists were inspired by the energy and beauty of water such as Leon Lundmark in Dashing Waves and Paul Doughtery's In a Golden Light.



Water also plays an important role in storytelling. The 20th century American sculptor Paul Manship illustrated the Greek myth of Zeus and the Phoenician princess Europa. Scott Rosema's drawing Diving Lesson looks like a panel from one of his comic book narratives. Howard Scott appropriated an image from earlier art in his After Hokusai's "Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji" with Flamingos. The surrealistic Dogger Bank by Phillippe Mohlitz exemplifies work of artists who use sea and marine motifs as a jumping off point for their imagination.



Many of the artists have given a realistic portrayal of the sea. However, a number of artists, such as Jacques Dutil in Ourcq Canal have used motifs associated with the sea as beginning points for studies in abstraction.


About the author

James Houghton joined the staff of the Muskegon Museum of Art as Curator Exhibitions and Collections on July 31, 2000. Prior to coming to Muskegon, Jim was a staff member in the Education Department of the Cincinnati Art Museum. He has taught art history at Southwestern Michigan College, Indiana University ­ South Bend, and Holy Cross College, Notre Dame, Indiana. He has a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame, an M.A. in Art History form the University of Michigan, and is a Ph.D. candidate in Art History at the university of Chicago.

The above article is reprinted with permission of the author and the Muskegon Museum of Art.


Read more about the Muskegon Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 6/3/11

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