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Setting Sail: Images of the Sea from the Collection on View at the Walters Art Museum
Eugène Isabey, Fishing Boats, 1862, watercolor heightened with white and gum on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (37.888)

BALTIMORE, MD.- Setting Sail features drawings, paintings, and prints of ships, sailors and the sea from the permanent collection of the Walters. The sea, and the men and women who make their living from it, have provided subjects for art from ancient times until the present day. In the 19th century, under the influence of Romanticism, the sea took on a new emotional resonance, becoming a metaphor for the overwhelming power of nature. This tendency can be seen in the expressive brushwork and somber palette Jacques Dupré (1811–89) used to paint At Sea, an image of boats beset by choppy waves.

At the same time, in an era of global expansion, the world's oceans were of unparalleled economic importance. Artists were able to draw on a long tradition of maritime painting to depict the strength and enterprise of nations. A number of the works in Setting Sail explore the theme of naval conflict, from a painting by Pierre Nicolas Legrand (1758–1829) commemorating the death of Admiral Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) to Kobayashi Kiyochika’s (1847–1915) dramatic wood block renderings of the events of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–5). Others show the varied facets of our interaction with the sea from commercial fishing and ocean travel to pleasure boating and visiting the seaside.

Artists have long been fascinated by the challenge of depicting the varied effects of wind and weather on the ocean. Setting Sail showcases the variety of media artists use to show the ominous light of a storm at sea, the jaunty angle of a sailor's hat or the peaceful lapping of water on a sheltered shore. Highlights include the biting, satirical pen of Paul Gavarni (1804–66) and the unsurpassed freshness of the French watercolorist Eugène Isabey (1803–86).

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