Bodies of water have been a source of inspiration for artists for hundreds of years. From the mystery of the sea to the tranquility of streams, bodies of water have played a role in inspiring some of the most famous paintings ever completed.
Harbors are no exception to this and were frequently depicted by artists during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Through the depiction of harbours, artists took the chance to depict scenes in which man met and even worked alongside the nature of the sea.
1. Leaving Harbour, William Wilson
Wilson’s Leaving Harbour painting is considered by many to be one of his most iconic works. He painted many paintings with themes at harbour or out at sea.
The painting depicts a small sailing vessel leaving a harbor and heading towards the open sea. A few sailors can be seen peeking out from the ship as it heads into the harbour and they arrive at their destination.
2. Whitby Harbor by Moonlight, John Atkinson Grimshaw
This Romantic painting features a night view of the Whitby harbour from the dock. Multiple ships can be seen in the harbor, with their shadows reflected on the water. Grimshaw uses saturated green tones in his depiction of the sky to mirror the color of the harbour. Aside from the harbour itself, the night sky serves as a focal point.
3. Boston Harbor c. 1850-55, Fitz Hugh Lane
Known for his work as the founder of Luminism, Lane’s paintings are easily identified by their significant use of light. His focus on the contrast between light and dark made nautical themes a natural subject matter for his paintings.
Boston Harbor is one of Lane’s works that well exemplifies his use of light. The painting depicts a variety of sailing vessels in the early morning as the sun rises above the horizon. Smaller ships can be seen in the foreground, with larger, grand vessels in the background.
4. Gloucester Harbor and Dory, Winslow Homer
An American painter born in Boston, Massachusetts and known for his landscape and marine-focused works, Homer painted primarily in the realistic style. Interestingly, he was proficient and frequently used both watercolor and oil painting as a medium. The painting Gloucester Harbor and Dory uses a somber palette with plenty of browns and grays and focuses on a serene image of a single human figure sitting on the boat as it rests in the harbour.
5. Dordrecht Harbor, Frank Myers Boggs
American painter Frank Myers Boggs traveled Europe extensively during his career. An Impressionist by style, Boggs painted works depicting local scenes as he traveled. Boggs captured the beauty of the Netherlands and the specific locale of Dordrecht when he painted the harbor that runs through the city. He did so in a realistic and almost dramatic style with themes that matched the Impressionist idea of painting outdoors.
6. Watching the Harbor, Winslow Homer
Winslow Homer’s expertise in realism is evident, once again, in Watching the Harbor. As with many of his paintings, this work incorporates a person in his maritime theme. At the same time, the artist captured the inland aspects with painstaking detail such as the field of flowers and even the folds in the subject’s clothing.
The focal point of the painting is a young man, who is shown looking towards the right of the canvas, presumably towards the harbor. A leg of the harbor can be seen stretching out behind the man, with a small boat visible in the background.
7. Harbor of Trieste, Egon Schiele
Egon Schiele’s Harbor of Trieste is painted in an interesting and realistic style. The boats in the harbor have eye-catching detail but the attention to detail in the reflection of the boats on the water is even more engaging and draws the eye to it. This feature truly shows off the Art Nouveau that Egon Schiele is so widely recognized for.
8. Boston Harbor, William Bradford
A Romantic painter by style, Bradford’s work typically focused on depictions of Atlantic and Arctic seascapes. His use of maritime themes brought him to be associated with the Hudson River School, where he was influenced by other Romantic painters in the area.
Bradford’s 1857 painting, Boston Harbor, uses the Romantic style to create a stately depiction of the titular harbor. Ships of varying sizes can be seen sailing across the harbor, with significant detail given to each vessel. A blue sky with some light clouds creates a peaceful background in the painting, giving a sense of serenity to the work.
With harbors serving as the intersection between nature and human advancement through shipping, it’s no surprise they have provided inspiration for countless artists. These 10 harbour paintings only scratch the surface of what the genre has to offer and there’s plenty more to explore.