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The Coast & the Sea: Marine and Maritime Art in America

January 30 - April 26, 2015


The Coast & the Sea: Marine and Maritime Art in America will be on view at the Portland Museum of Art (PMA) January 30, 2015 through April 26, 2015. Organized by the New-York Historical Society, The Coast & the Sea features 52 marine paintings and 10 maritime artifacts from New-York Historical Society's large and impressive collection. (right: James Guy Evans (United States, born England, circa 1810-1860), U.S. Ships of the Line "Delaware" and "North Carolina" and Frigates "Brandywine" and "Constellation," circa 1835-60, oil on canvas, 31 3/4 x 44 1/8 inches. New-York Historical Society, Gift of an Anonymous Donor, X.160)

Since the earliest voyages of European exploration, the destiny of the United States has always been linked to the ocean. The Atlantic Ocean, in particular, loomed large in the American consciousness. It served as the geographical barrier between Old and New Worlds and was a conduit for the global exchange of ideas, people, and things. It spurred commerce and enterprise that was the basis for both national economic activity and personal fortune. The activities in America's great harbors and port cities also supported the nation's cultural development, prompting the rise of schools of maritime and landscape painting, as well as portraiture.

The Coast & the Sea explores the rich visual traditions of marine and maritime art through a diverse selection of paintings and objects that range in date from 1750 to 1904. For example, early 19th-century seascapes by Thomas Birch, who was considered the country's first specialist in marine paintings, trace the adaptation of Anglo-Dutch painting conventions to an American context. Other highlights include spirited paintings of famous sea battles that celebrate the heroic feats of the U.S. Navy, and romanticized portrayals of ships in storms that symbolize life's trials and the power of nature.

There are portraits of esteemed merchants, mariners, and naval heroes, as well as of notable crafts, including the legendary naval frigate the USS Constitution (known as "Old Ironsides"). Views of bustling harbors and scenic sites along the water by leading landscape artists of the day -- such as Samuel Colman, Sanford Gifford, John Frederick Kensett, and Francis Augustus Silva -- showcase American waterways as a source of aesthetic inspiration, economic growth, and leisure activities. The global reach of American maritime activities is exemplified in a rare 19th-century painting by an unidentified Chinese artist, portraying the harbor of Canton.

Maritime artifacts such as an elaborately engraved whale's tooth scrimshaw from the mid-19th century, a mariner's octant from 1840, and a handsome silver presentation tureen commemorating acts of bravery during the War of 1812 provide additional historical context for understanding the visual and material culture of seafaring life in the United States.


Exhibition tour

The exhibition is part of New-York Historical Society's international outreach initiative, Sharing a National Treasure: The Linda S. Ferber Traveling Exhibition Program. The exhibition tour schedule includes Portland Museum of Art (Portland, ME) January 30-April 26, 2015; Mattatuck Museum (Waterbury, CT) June 6-September 3, 2015; and New York State Museum (Albany, NY) October 24, 2015-February 22, 2016.


Exhibition catalogue

The exhibition is accompanied by the catalogue The Coast & the Sea: Marine and Maritime Art in America by exhibition curator Linda S. Ferber. Published by the New-York Historical Society in association with D Giles Limited, London, the fully illustrated catalogue is 104 pages and will be available in the PMA Store in the fall.



(above: Francis Augustus Silva (1835-1886). New York Harbor, N.Y., 1880. Oil on canvas,12 x 20 inches. Collection of the New-York Historical Society. Gift of the Pintard Fellows, 1975.29.)


(above: Junius Brutus Stearns (1810-1885). Fishing in a Catboat in Great South Bay, 1871, Oil on canvas, 29 x 39 1/4 inches. Collection of the New-York Historical Society. Gift of C. Otto von Kienbusch, 1964.21.)


(above: Thomas Birch (United States, born England, 1779-1851), Ship in a Storm, 1841, Oil on canvas, 18 27 1/8 inches. Collection of the New-York Historical Society. Gift of Mrs. Louis A. Gillet, 1945.451.)



Object labels and wall panels

To view object labels for the exhibition, please click here and here.

To view wall panels for the exhibition, please click here.


Editor's notes:

For definitions of object labels and wall panels, please see Definitions in Museums Explained.

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Read more information, articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Portland Museum of Art in Resource Library.

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