Art Wednesday: Robert Salmon, American Nautical Painter

Ship in Storm 1828 Oil on board, 36 x 50 cm Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The theme of ships in danger was common in the seventeenth-century Dutch painting and could symbolize the precariousness of life's journey.

Ship in Storm
1828
Oil on board, 36 x 50 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The theme of ships in danger was common in the seventeenth-century Dutch painting and could symbolize the precariousness of life’s journey.

American painter of English origin. Having trained and painted in England and Scotland, he moved to Boston in 1828, painting in a ‘little hut’ near the wharves of South Boston. Reportedly an eccentric, he became a successful painter of marine views, adopting a range of different scales, including small wooden panels, larger canvases and theatre backdrops.

A Naval Cutter - Oil on panel, 51 x 79 cm Private collection

A Naval Cutter

Oil on panel, 51 x 79 cm
Private collection

Moonlight Coastal Scene (1836; St Louis, Art Museum) is typical of his works on panel, and it demonstrates his use of light to silhouette form. There are no extant examples of the panoramic views done as backdrops; his canvases such as Wharves of Boston (1829; Boston, Old State House) and View of Charlestown (1833; Annapolis, US Naval Academy Museum) are full of carefully delineated figures, minute and accurate details of the ships and their rigging, and, most importantly, large expanses of sky dominated by strong light.

Ship Aground 1827 Oil on panel, 26 x 37 cm Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Ship Aground
1827
Oil on panel, 26 x 37 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Estridge off Dover 1800 Oil on canvas, 67 x 109 cm Private collection

The Estridge off Dover
1800
Oil on canvas, 67 x 109 cm
Private collection

Salmon’s portrayal of light-filled water and sky, increasingly luminous in the late 1830s and early 1840s, has caused him to be considered by some as the father of Luminism. He used a low viewpoint and contrasted a distant shoreline and small-scale figures in the foreground in a manner that prefigured the work of Fitz Hugh Lane and Martin Johnson Heade, both of whom were influenced by Salmon’s manipulation of scale, light and subject-matter.

It appears that he returned to England before his death.

On the Web:

Robert Salmon – Wikipedia

Crash

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