Get inspired by looking at several iconic seascape paintings from the late middle ages, the Renaissance, the Impressionist movement to the modern art period. Then, we’ll explore three seascape painting ideas you can start today.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Iconic Seascape Paintings Through the Years
Li Livre des Ansienes Estoires
Tavola Strozzi by Francesco Roselli
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt
Seascape Near Berneval by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Ground Swell by Edward Hopper
The Great Wave by Hokusai
Is it just us or is this a common occurrence? Every year when summer is fast approaching, we recall images of bright, almost cloudless, crisp blue skies and serene turquoise seascapes. Of course, it’s likely because of our pre-pandemic beach getaway memories with family and friends. Indeed, the magnificence of the ocean is undeniable. Afterall, our planet’s surface consists of over 70 percent water and the oceans alone hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth’s water.
Thus, the awe-inspiring ocean has provided inspiration for countless numbers of painters throughout history. Having said that, for this article, we’ll get inspired by looking at several iconic seascape paintings we’ve selected from the late middle ages, the Renaissance up to the Impressionists and then the modern art period. Also, we will explore three seascape painting ideas to inspire your next painting project. Time to bring out your blue paints!
Iconic Seascape Paintings Through the Years
Li Livre des Ansienes Estoires (ca. 1285)
As it had done since the early Christian times, most artworks from the middle ages served primarily religious functions. Hence, the earliest depictions of the seas that are still in existence today can be found mostly in medieval religious scrolls and codices.
The unusual seascape painting above is just one of the many flat paintings found within the Li Livre des Ansienes Estoires, a medieval illuminated manuscript. Believed to be compiled for the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem before their fall in 1291, Li Livre des Ansienes Estoires is a universal chronicle covering the period from Creation to the rise of Julius Caesar.
Tavola Strozzi (ca. 1470-72) by Francesco Roselli
Francesco Roselli’s 15th century seascape painting features a different point of view of the Bay of Naples. Unlike the usual depictions of the sea and the rest of the seascape paintings included in our list, Roselli painted a view of the city of Naples in Italy from the sea and not from the coast. It’s as if he painted the scene from an elevated vantage point while moving towards the shore.
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633) by Rembrandt
Undoubtedly the most imposing in the list, the Storm on the Sea of Galilee was the only known seascape painting by the Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn. Adding to the painting’s fame was the fact that it was one of the $500 million worth of stolen paintings from the controversial Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist in 1990.
The oil on canvas seascape painting features Jesus calming the waves of the sea storm and saving the lives of his apostles, who were all aboard. It is said that Rembrandt actually included a self portrait near Jesus. Can you guess which one?
Seascape Near Berneval (1879) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s most notable paintings were his portraits of the Parisian elite during the late 19th century. However, I must say that this “very Impressionist” piece is definitely my favorite among the paintings in his body of work.
Although towards the end of the 1870s Renoir started shifting from employing the “spontaneity” of Impressionism to eventually infusing a more classical approach to his existing portraiture style, he still created several en plein air paintings that retained his luminous palette. The Seascape Near Berneval is one of these “almost abstract” Impressionist seascape paintings.
Ground Swell (1939) by Edward Hopper
American artist Edward Hopper is generally known for his sun-bleached landscapes, deserted city scapes and paintings of people in eerie, disconnected urban scenes. His subjects are often depicted lost in thought further capturing loneliness and the alienation of modern life. Thus, in this particular seascape painting, he rendered a small group of people out in the sea aboard a catboat. The same disconnectedness seems to exude from these characters despite the sunny, happy palette.
BONUS: The Great Wave off Kanagawa (1831) by Katsushika Hokusai
Perhaps the most iconic seascape painting in this list, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa is actually not a painting but a woodblock print. Created by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai in the early 19th century, it’s one of a series of thirty six prints called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji or Fugaku sanjūrokkei. This woodblock print is said to have inspired Debussy’s La Mer.
Seascape Painting Ideas To Inspire Your Next Painting
Being able to capture the sea in all its glory is no easy feat. However, there are different ways to render the sea depending on your medium and skill level. We’re sure that painting daily will definitely help you get to the skill level you want. So to start, we recommend joining our Painting Inspiration Daily Facebook group where we do painting challenges and activities with both aspiring and professional artists from across the world.
Meanwhile, here are some inspiration for your next seascape painting. Cerulean, Cobalt, Prussian, Phthalo, Ultramarine — whichever blue is your favorite, gather your happy paints and brushes, and let’s get painting!
#1 Representational Seascape Paintings
The most classical yet not the easiest in this list is the representational or the depiction of realistic seascapes as we see it in nature. It requires mastery of advanced drawing and painting techniques to be able to capture the likeness of the sea without any fantastical or unnatural colors. Think of it like attempting a still life painting of a scenery.
A basic advice is to split the horizon into two. Which means painting the sky and maybe some far off land mass on the top-half of the horizon, and then the sea towards the foreground for the bottom half. Of course this is not a rule and is merely a guideline to kickstart your representational seascape painting.
Russian artist Vladimir Preobrazhensky painted the likeness of the turquoise waters of the popular Cape Sarych on the shore of the Black Sea on the Crimean Peninsula.
#2 Impressionist Seascape Paintings
Compared to representational, Impressionist seascape paintings are rendered using more spontaneous and loose brushstrokes to attempt to capture light on the scene. This is usually achieved by applying bright, lighter, almost pastel-like colors to depict light. Look at this peaceful painting in shades of blue by artist @kriesence painted using the Infinity Series Oil Palettes.
#3 Abstract Seascape Paintings
Who says the sea should only be painted in blue? For this seascape painting idea, you can choose different colors to render your painting. It’s of course ideal to use a palette knife to create impasto textures. The Renoir Collection is a 14-piece brush set for oil and acrylics that include a handy palette knife and all the brushes you’ll ever need.
Here’s artist Eithne Mcguigan’s painting of a vibrant almost-rainbow colored abstract seascape painting of the Portstewart Strand in North Ireland.
Abstract artist Scott Naismith creates a body of abstract art that he calls ‘fractal landscape,’ paintings that are just full of textures and colors. Scott gets his inspiration by flying a drone across the Scottish landscape and then uses his unique take on color theory to create an explosion of energy.
Whichever of these wonderful seascape painting ideas you decide to try out in the coming months, always remember to have fun and be consistent. And don’t forget to share your art with our community on Facebook Painting Inspiration Daily!
Featured artwork: A Boat at Sea painting by Ardak Kassenova
Our featured painting is a boat at sea with its reflection on the water, painted by our co-founder and creative director, Ardak Kassenova using ZenART Supplies’ watercolor from the Aspiring Artists Series of Watercolor Palettes song with some brushes from our Turner Collection and Fine Line Miniature sets. Start painting with this tutorial – How To Paint Water With Watercolor For Beginners. Also, you can send our creative director some love on her Instagram account @ardak_zenart!
Did this article inspire you to paint some seascape pieces this summer? Tell us what you’re creating and share them below. Let’s start a conversation! Sending you all love and light. Happy painting!
— MEET THE AUTHOR—
Fabrianne is the Ambassador of Art Buzz at ZenART, resident eccentric pocket-sized art curator, editor, and art world liaison. She builds and develops relationships with the arts community and makes sure that ZenART’s inspirational articles get to you “hot off the press.” She co-founded an online contemporary art gallery, worked with over 100 artists on exhibitions and performances, wears only black clothes and when she’s not creating buzz or curating and saturating in art, still daydreams of becoming a quirky Wes Anderson film character.
References and further reading:
My Modern Met, A Selection of Art History’s Most Important Seascapes, https://mymodernmet.com/seascape-art-history/
USGS, How Much Water is There on Earth? https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/how-much-water-there-earth
United Nations, The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods, https://www.un.org/en/observances/oceans-day
Britannica, Rembrandt, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rembrandt-van-Rijn
Met Museum, Under the Wave off Kanagawa, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/45434Britannica, Landscape Painting, https://www.britannica.com/art/landscape-painting