Art has existed for tens of thousands of years. Given its long and lasting history, it is only natural that it would see undulating trends. Time and time again, artists around the world have returned to age-old models, with the seascape making waves in many of art history’s most important movements.
Like other prevailing practices—including
Set sail on a journey through the history of maritime art with these 9 important seascapes.
The Gobustan Petroglyphs
The earliest known work of maritime art can be found in Azerbaijan’s Gobustan National Park. Once located at the shores of the since-expanded Caspian Sea, this reserve boasts myriad archaeological monuments, including a world-famous collection of over 6,000 rock carvings.
Created by ancient hunter-gatherers between 5,000-20,000 BCE, these inscribed designs feature a range of subject matter, including weapon-wielding warriors, celestial bodies, and ancient reed boats, which were vessels made from grass-like plants that grow in wetlands.
The Siren Vase
In Ancient Greece, artisans focused less on everyday life and more on mythology. Still, references to the sea are present in folklore-focused art, like The Siren Vase, a red-figured stamnos (a liquid-storing container) from the 5th century BCE.
This piece of pottery depicts one of Greek mythology’s most famous scenes: when Odysseus, the “
Nile Mosaic of Palestrina
The ocean is not the only body of water featured in Classical maritime art. In 100 BCE, ancient Roman artisans crafted the Palestrina Mosaic, a pieced-together portrayal of Egypt’s Nile River. This dazzling depiction is among the best-preserved and largest surviving
Featuring an arched silhouette, it likely originally adorned a grotto—a rock niche that naturally or artificially features water—making its aquatic emphasis particularly pertinent.
The Bayeux Tapestry
Completed in the 11th century and celebrated for its craftsmanship, the 230-foot-long
Within its many crowded and chaotic scenes, fleets of ships floating on serpentine stitches can be found, illustrating the strategic importance of the sea during the Battle of Hastings.
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt
Painter, printmaker, and draftsman
Depicting a gospel story that describes a miracle performed by Jesus, this powerful painting comes to life thanks to the bold treatment of light and dramatic theatricality that have come to symbolize the artist’s work.
Unfortunately, this painting was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 and remains missing today.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai
Stylized portrayals of the sea feature regularly in Japan’s
A yoko-e (landscape-oriented) print,
The Slave Ship by J. M. W. Turner
This modern approach to painting is particularly evident in Slave Ship (1840), a sunset seascape inspired by a grim, real-life event: the mass murder of 133 slaves on the slave ship Zong in 1781.
Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet
In 1872, French artist
While this seascape features the hazy silhouettes of rowboats, ships, and smokestacks, Monet opted to place the emphasis on the breaking sunlight and its impression on the undulating waves—a focus that inspired not only the piece’s title but the name of the Impressionist movement itself.
Seestück (Seascape) by Gerhard Richter
“Since there is no such thing as absolute rightness and truth, we always pursue the artificial, leading, human truth,” German contemporary artist Gerard Richter once said. “We judge and make a truth that excludes other truths. Art plays a formative part in this manufacture of truth.” This belief is central to Richter’s body of work—especially his signature photo-paintings, like the Seascape (Seestück) series.
Though painted entirely by hand, these works evoke the look and feel of a photograph, placing the age-old art of the seascape within a contemporary context.