The seascape is a fantastic and versatile subject for painting. You could paint the glassy water on a calm day, or the crashing waves of the ocean during a storm.
One of the reasons the seascape is such a popular subject is because of the unique way water seems to capture and reflect all the surrounding colors. This can be a challenge to paint, but the outcome can be stunning.
This post will feature some of the top seascape painters and will hopefully provide you with some seascape painting inspiration.
Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (27 February 1863 – 10 August 1923) was known for his beautifully fluid style of painting. His paintings appear incredibly realistic, yet effortless. This style seems to work well for painting water.
Pictured below are two completely different seascape paintings. The first captures the translucent blue-greens of the calm water. The second captures the crashing waves with the use of dark grays and blues.
Here are some more paintings by Sorolla.
Albert Bierstadt (January 7, 1830 – February 18, 1902) was known for his grand and naturalistic landscape paintings of the American West. He also has many stunning paintings of the seascape.
Claude Monet (14 November 1840 – 5 December 1926) painted pretty much anything to do with the environment. His broken color approach to painting seems to be extremely effective for depicting water. When you look up close at Monet's paintings of water, you can see almost a mess of different greens, blues, yellows and grays. But you step back and it just seems to blend together.
Additional readings regarding Claude Monet:
Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet
Jean Gustave Courbet (10 June 1819 – 31 December 1877) was a French Realist painter, but some of his seascape paintings seem to verge more towards impressionism. In the first painting below, notice in the sky the subtle color changes within a very narrow value range. The painting below that, on the other hand, features a strong contrast between dark clouds and clear blue sky. It is so difficult to imitate the blue of a sky, but Courbet seems to have done a great job in this painting. The blue almost seems to glow.
Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky
I could not write about inspirational seascape paintings without mentioning the great Ivan Aivazovsky (29 July 1817 – 2 May 1900). Ivan Aivazovsky was a Russian Romantic painter who was renowned for his grand seascape paintings which displayed incredible detail and use of color.
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Joseph Mallord William Turner (23 April 1775 – 19 December 1851) was an English Romantic painter who created many atmospheric and almost chaotic marine paintings. Though not all his paintings are like this. Many of his earlier works displayed a much more delicate style (like the third painting pictured below).
Winslow Homer (February 24, 1836 – September 29, 1910) was an American painter who was best known for his seascape paintings. He was experienced with both watercolors and oils. His watercolor paintings have a simple elegance to them, whilst his oil paintings appear dramatic and moody. One thing I notice about Winslow Homer's seascape paintings is the overall lack of color. He relied mostly on grays.
Additional reading regarding Winslow Homer:
In stark contrast to Winslow Homer's seascape paintings, Childe Hassam was not hesitant to use vibrant color in his seascapes. In many of his paintings he used a broken color technique to create this beautiful vibration of color (similar to Claude Monet).
Additional readings regarding Childe Hassam:
This is one of the most famous seascape artworks by Katsushika Hokusai named "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa". It is actually a woodblock print, not a painting, but I thought it was worth a mention. It was published sometime between 1829 and 1833.
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