on 2 February 2010
Author David Cordingly was Keeper of Pictures at the world's foremost museum of the sea - the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, London. That this book is such a masterful introduction to maritime prints, drawings and watercolours is thus no surprise. This book is worth every penny.
Do "look inside" and you will see, inter alia, the list of contents and the index, so there is no need for me to go into detail here.
David Cordingly starts his preface with "A museum colleague once remarked to me that the problem with marine painting was that they all looked the same." The rest of the book dispels that view. He tells us first about the different styles of drawing and painting, prints and processes, etching and engraving, before describing the different type of ships, with one double-page drawing from af Chapman's "Architectura Navalis Mercatoria" (1768) illustrating twenty-four types of 18th-century sailing vessel. We are then told about the different schools of painters and the many different types of marine art, all with suitable illustrations.
As one would expect in a book about pictures, it is beautifully illustrated, most in full colour, with examples of almost every conceivable type of marine work. And, thankfully, whereas other books about the sea and ships, rivers and boats and naval warfare, tend to use the more famous works as illustrations, the pictures illustrated in this excellent book are less well-known, as are some of the artists themselves - but the big names are not omitted, of course. A number of the works illustrated have are complemented with an adjacent inset showing a detail of the work, enabling the reader to see intimate detail of the painter's hand - an excellent feature.
The nearest 'Blue Plaque' to my home is a tenth of a nautical mile away: it is to the engraver William Daniell and I was delighted to see that his aquatint "Lighthouse on the South Stack, Holyhead" is included; thus, my local blue plaque comes alive!
W L Wyllie's pencil drawing of Queen Victoria's funeral, with HM Yacht "Alberta" entering Portsmouth, is (not surprisingly) excellent. The Frenchman Marin-Marie's bodycolour of the steamer "Martinique" is in marked contrast just two pages on - glorious colour! John Worsley's dry point work "A steamship pitching in a squall" is stunning and I rather covet these three works: James McNeill Whistler's etching "Eagle Wharf", from 'The Thames Set', the little-known John Fraser's watercolour "The steamer Pickwick" and Charles Pears's gouache "Cargo steamer in a heavy sea". I look forward to seeing some of the originals, of course, and a visit to the National Maritime Museum in London will be worthwhile indeed, especially to see the original oil of "HMS Malaya" by Norman Wilkinson, sporting the dazzle camouflage paint scheme that the artist himself designed. It would have been helpful were the works illustrated dated; this is a common omission in art books and it is a mistake - is HMS Malaya at Gibraltar in the First World War or the Second World War?
I have to say that I do not understand what the sentence under the title "Index" - on page 158 - means: "References to an artist in the text precede those (in italics) to reproductions of the artists' work", as there is not one letter in italics in the index. What was intended becomes a little more clear when one finds that page numbers are not in order, e.g. "Daniell, William 30, 97, 46" and "Dixon, Charles 135, 51, 133" - the second numerical sequence should have been in italics and these are the pages on which appear illustrations. A disappointing, and initially confusing, editorial oversight in an otherwise ship-shape book - but a minor quibble.
This is a lovely book and a treat for anyone who loves the sea and ships. It should certainly inspire away days to maritime museums and galleries and will leave the visitor better informed about the marine pictures on display. Perhaps, when the reader has some spare cash, a purchase of an original work would be the ultimate indulgence - there's much to choose from at any time for, as the author says, "Every year several thousand marine paintings, drawings and prints pass through the sale rooms".