Royal Society of Marine Artists 2017 exhibition

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Naval close encounter. 

Royal Society of Marine Artists 2017 exhibition

By James Brewer

Any exhibition that sets out “to celebrate everything that is wonderful and inspiring about the sea and the marine environment” enjoys a broad canvas.

Participants in the Royal Society of Marine Artists annual show, staged from October 5 to 14, 2017 at the Mall Galleries, took the plunge eagerly to fulfil that mandate.

Four hundred strikingly diverse submissions, mostly oil and acrylics and with a few sculptures, graced the venue. The emphasis was on the leisure and yachting side of marine experience, with commercial shipping largely relegated to an unprepossessing berth.

Admiring Geoff Hunt’s work.

The sheer breadth of subject matter though made for a delightful two, three or four hours of strolling by painted shore and ocean.

Boatyards, beaches, bronzes of turtles of the Ionian Sea, a lifeboat in action, sea flora, an iron ore carrier at Port Talbot, a Thames scene, naval warfare, racing yachts, fishing villages – all were brushed and shaped in loving and accomplished fashion, awash with well-judged detail.

As the exhibition organisers stated: “The call of the sea is strong and many of us feel an urge to spend some time within sight or sound of the water. Fond memories are often centred around family trips to the beach, walking the coastline or sailing the seas.”

Painters laid out masterful depictions of seas serene or unruly, the ebb and flow of the tides upon the sands, and tranquil harbours.

Fleet at Sea! Oil. By Geoff Hunt.

Hard by the entrance to the gallery were two dramatic naval scenes, episodes in the career of Horatio Nelson, by Geoff Hunt.  These exemplified Geoff’s skill in such endeavours and the painstaking research he carries out (he says that he conducted 113 hours of research before he even picked up a brush for an earlier picture, of Henry VIII’s flagship Mary Rose). With a talent for bringing the past to life, he has been described as one of the world’s finest painters of 18th and 19th century ships, and has become an authority on military history and naval architecture of the period.

HMS Captain leaving Porto Ferraio. Watercolour. By Geoff Hunt

On show were a watercolour, HMS Captain leaving Porto Ferraio July 1796, and an oil painting, Fleet at Sea! Active and Seahorse racing to Nelson 19 January 1805.

HMS Captain was a 74-gun Royal Navy ship of the line which was put under the command of Nelson as part of a squadron ordered to carry out a raid on privateers based on the Genoese-controlled island of Capraia, in the Tuscan archipelago. Portoferraio is a harbour on the larger island of Elba.

Five months after succeeding in this mission, Nelson joined the main fleet off Cape St Vincent, Portugal, and got the Captain to break out of the line of battle to mount a surprise attack on the theoretically superior Spanish ships, which contributed to a famous victory.

Fastnet#1. Oil. By Peter Wileman.

The Captain was severely damaged but returned to service in 1799 following repairs, and sailed for the Mediterranean. January 19, 1805 was the day when the frigates Active and Seahorse espied the French fleet leave Toulon and they raced to Agincourt Sound to report this to Nelson, who was waiting there. Nelson set sail to search for the French, a voyage which took him to Sardinia, Naples and Alexandria, only to find they had sought shelter the following month back in Toulon.  .

Elsewhere at the Mall Galleries event, Geoff showed two field sketches, entitled Fishing flags at Hastings Beachand Golden Hinde at Southwark. It is 40 years since he first exhibited with the Royal Society of Marine Artists. In 1989 he was elected a member of the society, and he had a period as honorary treasurer and served as president in 2003-08.  He often paints with the Wapping Group of Artists and is sought after by local art societies to give demonstrations.

Helping Hand. Oil. By John Lines

In terms of today’s merchant shipping practice, there was a graphic oil painting of a tug guiding a cargoship to port. Entitled Helping Hand, the canvas by John Lines was awarded the Derek Gardner Sea and Sky award. A second painting by John Lines shows presumably the same cargoship being refloated. John says that his “mission is simply to paint through honest eyes.”  He prefers to paint “on the spot” but also produces large studio work. He does no sketching and “dives straight in with paint to work towards a finish as soon as possible.”

Hazy Morning, River Thames. Oil. By Douglas Gray.

The thrill of competitive sailing is vividly shown by Peter Wileman, expertly wielding a palette knife for his oils in eye-popping colours Fastnet#1 and Fastnet#2. “My painting is all about light and how we see it and react to it. It is what drives artists on. It is why most of us paint. Yet light can be as elusive as a wisp of smoke as we try to capture it in all its many moods.”

Captured on camera.

His further comment would be echoed by most of the exhibitors: “For me, painting is as much a part of the day as eating and sleeping.  In fact, it’s more important than that, more like breathing!”

In addition to being a member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists, Peter, who has worked in art and design for 40 years, is a former president of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, a member of the East Anglian Group of Marine Artists and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Fishing Village 1. Driftwood and beachcombed items. By Rikkie Carette.

David Walshaw, who lives in the Yorkshire Dales, presented his watercolour Staithes Beck Reflections. “Recently,” he says, “I have seemingly developed a strong affinity for townscape and marine based art.”

For a small place, Staithes Beck has a long marine and industrial history. It was once one of the largest fishing ports in the northeast of England and handled a great deal of mineral resources. An extra distinction is that Capt James Cook, who was born at Marton, 25 miles to the south, worked at the age of 16 in a shop in Staithes before embarking on his seagoing exploits. David Walshaw is among the many painters attracted to the spot, the marine charms of which contrast with a deep potash mine, still working, nearby.

Douglas Gray portrays an unusual mood of the capital’s main waterway with his panorama in oils Hazy Morning, River Thames. His skill for reflection and movement on water gained him a commission from the Savoy Hotel, where he has a painting on permanent display.

Children at innocent play at the seaside is a popular theme, and some engaging examples greeted visitors to the exhibition. Among the delights was the oil painting Marine Artists by Raymond Leech. The marine artists in this instance are two small girls who have, absorbed in their purpose, drawn a doll-like figure in the sand.

Fishing Village 1. Detail.

Born in Great Yarmouth, Raymond finds rich subject matter in Norfolk, and others of his works on show were composed at Cromer and Hunstanton. He says that for many years he would have been described as a landscape painter, “but gradually evolved to paint seascape and marine subjects, progressing into figurative work at the seaside.”

A remarkable sculpture has been assembled from driftwood and beachcombed items by Rikkie Carette, who owns a business called Clean Coast Services, which treats slipways, pontoons, steps, shoreline and marinas. His Fishing Village 1 is a 120 cm high “tree” populated with fishermen’s cottages in varied hues, meticulously and artfully put together. Rikkie picks up the items from beaches in Devon and Cornwall in the course of his work.

It all started when a restaurateur opening new premises at a marina he serves asked him to provide singular driftwood that could be used for decoration. Rikkie went further than that, to make his first beach-scavenged sculpture. He has been making artworks of the type for nine years, including three large sculptures for an Italian cruiseship. Rikkie welcomes repeat orders for his sculptures, but as every piece of driftwood is different, all the sculptures are one-offs.

Marine Artists. Oil. By Raymond Leech.

The Royal Society of Marine Artists is a charitable organisation which “promotes marine art painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking of the highest standard.” Originally called the Society of Marine Artists, it was founded in 1939 but the outbreak of war meant that its inaugural exhibition was postponed until November 1946, in the newly constructed Guildhall Art Gallery, in the City of London. That exhibition was opened by A V Alexander, the new minister of defence and former First Lord of the Admiralty – “a clear demonstration of the high regard in which this new society was held,” says the history page on the society website.

Many marine artists with a national or international reputation such as Montague Dawson, Rowland Hilder, Claude Muncaster, Charles Pears, Norman Wilkinson and Harold Wyllie were among early members.

Staithes Beck Reflections. Watercolour. By David Walshaw.

The society continued to exhibit at the Guildhall until 1980, moving the following year it moved to the Mall Galleries. In addition to the annual exhibitions, shows have been staged at galleries, museums and marine-associated venues around the UK.

What people want to paint has broadened over the years to encompass not only sea-going vessels, but yachts and dinghies, the coast and seashore, harbours, estuaries and tidal rivers – indeed anything marine-related.
During the exhibition members tutored painting workshops in the gallery’s Learning Centre and offered free demonstrations.

Mall Galleries bookshop.

The society’s website is


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