Western Artists – problems depicting non-Western craft?
- September 1, 2015 at 10:33 am #10232
Some time ago I read a book in which the author claimed that 19th century western depictions of Chinese Junks were inaccurate & unreliable because the artists were so convinced of western superiority that they made the junks fit into the western conception of what a sailing ship should look like.
Of course junks were very unlike western vessels of the same period, but so were many other local craft. For example, those of Polynesia were highly unusual to western eyes, and seem to have attracted quite a lot of artistic attention, but without similar claims of western bias.
I have two questions:
1. Were western artists really so innately prejudiced that they could not produce a reasonably accurate painting or drawing of a Chinese Junk?
2. If so, was this problem restricted to Chinese craft?
Frank ScottMarch 15, 2017 at 4:18 pm #14042
I have not had any responses to my query, but this well-known illustration shows that Western artist could produce depictions of Western craft that were every bit as misleading & inaccurate.
Just take a look at West India Docks by Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson from Rudolph Ackermann’s Microcosm of London, or, London in Miniature (1808-11) and marvel at the mass of maritime inaccuracies. To me this just goes to show that accurate maritime artwork should not be expected from those who are not specialists, regardless of the origin of the vessels.
Unfortunately the image could not be uploaded as it is too large, but it is easy to find on-line.March 16, 2017 at 6:20 pm #14044AnonymousInactive
But how to tell whether an artist is a specialist or is to be relied upon?
Let me get in a broader complaint too: judging by practice in these parts, art galleries and suchlike file or classify their artworks by unimportant criteria like name of artist, period, medium and so on. Ask them for something simple like a list of all artworks depicting steamers and they’re flummoxed: unable to respond. Yet it is possible that their collections have useful information about matters of maritime interest.
bjgMarch 17, 2017 at 4:55 pm #14045
To judge accuracy of the artist, you have to have prior knowledge of the artist, and/or you have to look carefully at the painting/drawing/engraving and use your maritime knowledge to look for the obvious points that show whether the artist has any understanding of ships and the sea. So the problem is that the less you know the less you are able to judge whether the picture is at all accurate.
I entirely agree that few galleries have much interest in matters maritime.March 19, 2017 at 10:14 am #14047
I have now done what I should have done in the first place & cropped the photo so that it is inside the size limit. So here is a highlight from plate 92 West India Docks by Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson from Rudolph Ackermann’s Microcosm of London, or, London in Miniature (1808-11). The artists are both well-known, but the ships in this print are terrible.
What kicked this off was East Sails West: The voyage of the ‘Keying’, 1846–1855, by Stephen Davies, which I was asked to review for Mariner’s Mirror, 101:1 (2015). http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/7fRXH565mmfiWADvYC74/full
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