It’s a category that spans large, dramatic 17th-to-19th century Dutch and English Old Master illustrations of naval battles, to sometimes naïve Victorian oils and watercolours capturing fishing scenes or a prized sailing boat.
Marine art hit its height in the 19th century when empires vied to rule the waves for trade and military purposes.
Though the popularity of marine art ebbs and flows, a selection at John Nicholson’s monthly paintings sale in Fernhurst, West Sussex on Wednesday, November 28 suggests a subject matter that offers great value at various price points along the scale.
At least 60 of the 400 oils, watercolours, prints and engravings for sale on Wednesday have marine, coastal or river themes, with five of the top lots consigned by the Royal Southampton Yacht Club.
ATG caught up with John Nicholson’s picture specialist, Buffy Parker, for a selection of marine pictures for all budgets.
1. Coastal scenes etchings: estimates between £70-400
First up is a series of etchings (lots 1-9) by Rowland Langmaid (1897-1956) and William Lionel Wyllie (1851-1931). All signed in pencil by the artists and framed, the etchings range in price from £70 to £400.
“William Lionel Wyllie and his son Harold have a huge following and their watercolours make between £1000-5000,” Parker says. “But etchings are cheaper than watercolours, easy to hang and they tend to be clean because they’ve been under glass. And these etchings are great coastal subjects, which for locals to those areas are very desirable.”
2. F Parkin oil on canvas: estimate £200-300
F Parkin (19th-20th century) painted this typical, Cutty Sark-type clipper under full sail in oil on canvas (lot 268). At 20in (51cms) x 30in (76cms), and with a provenance to the Leghertier & Barde gallery in London, Parker believes this picture offers much bang for its £200-300 estimate.
3. Richard Barnett Spencer oils: estimate £1500-2000
Lot 273 is a pair of brightly coloured oils on canvas by Richard Barnett Spencer (1840-1874), one featuring several ships on choppy waters. “Spencer was a good artist,” says Parker. “Though these are slightly provincial, the canvases are 16in (401/2 cms) x 24in (61cms), in their original gilt frames and are good value.”
4. Arctic rescue pair: estimate £2000-3000
Another pair of oils on canvas (lot 266) depict the dramatic rescue of the crew of SS Eira after it was crushed by ice during an Arctic expedition in 1882.
Consigned by a local collector, Arctic Relief – SS Hope and Rescue of the SS Eira’s Crew at Matochkin Strait, Nova Zembla and its companion painting are by Edwin Frederick Holt (1830-1912), whose usual subjects were cattle and farmyard scenes. Signed, inscribed and dated, Holt painted the pair, both 16in (401/2 cms) x 20in (51cms), using sketches by the leader of the rescue expedition.
5. Edward William Cooke: estimate £15,000-20,000
The Undercliff at Bonchurch (Isle of Wight) is by Edward William Cooke (1811-1880) and is packed full of vivid seashore detail: lobster pots, fishing tackle and figures repairing a boat (lot 257).
Dated 1871, and very large at 33in x 53in (84cms x 134cms), the painting is inscribed ‘RA’ having been exhibited at the Royal Academy.
“Interestingly, there was a sketch of a detail of this painting, just of the central boat, 8in x 11in (20cms x 28cms), which sold for £5000 at Bonhams the other day,” Parker says. “It’s beautifully painted.”
6. Abraham Van Stry: estimate £20,000-£40,000
Finally, we come to the sale’s star marine lot, consigned by the Royal Southampton Yacht Club (lot 250).
A monumental 44in (111cms) x 66in (167cms) oil on canvas in a carved, contemporaneous frame, the painting by Old Master artist Abraham Van Stry (Strij) (1753-1826) depicts people disembarking from a flotilla off the Dutch coast.
The Dutch have long been a nation of sailors, and from the 17th century vied with Britain in sea travel and commerce - and in marine art too.
“To find a huge Dutch marine like this is very rare,” Parker says. “Normally this sort of picture is in a museum or institution and they don’t come on the market very often,” Parker says.
“So, aside from Van Stry being an important Dutch artist, rarity is a big appeal of this picture and in that light, an estimate of £20,000-to-£40,000 doesn’t seem a lot of money.”
The auction can be viewed at thesaleroom.com.