Sea History 117 - Winter 2006-2007

Page 53

Tempests and Romantic Visionaries: Images ofStorms in European and American Art edited by Hardy S. George (Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, OK, 2006, 134pp, ISBN 0-911919-04-x; $35pb)


he title alone should send readers of Sea History running to their local bookstore. The book catalogues a recent exhibit (of the same title) at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art in glorious full-color reproductions. W hat an exhibit it was! The usual suspects are here: J. M. W Turner, Winslow Homer, Thomas Moran as well as a surprising range ofless well-known painters. Credit to the museum's chief curator, Hardy S. George, for these provocative juxtapositions, as well as the catalog organization. Anyone wanting a quick rimeline of arr/maritime history will be disappointed. Those who prefer to relish discovery and possibility will find visual and intellectual stimulation enough to while away many a winter evening, as storms rage outside your window. The five critical essays that accompany the paintings are rich in anecdote and interpretation and blessedly free of obscure academic references. Words and pictures complement each other-a bonus is the inclusion of black and white reproductions of paintings and prints discussed in the book bur not in the exhibition. An extensive bibliography serves as an invaluable research source. Thematically, the show ends in the early twentieth century, but the themes are still familiar. Hurricanes and tornadoes hold their dread fascination today, witness the popularity of the Weather Channel. fu every sailor knows, the relation of man and nature is fluid, and arr is capable of expressing that relationship beyond the literal. The past is often revelatory, as Tempests proves. Ir can also be inspirational, a "restoration of hope in the storm's aftermath." AR.DEN ScoTT, artist Greenport, New York "\V,7hile writing a book about a killer storm in which I sailed off the coast of Britain some W time ago, I found myself in desperate need of sources of both solace and wrirerly inspiration. Two autobiographical novels about to ugh times afloat did both tricks: Joseph Conrad's Typhoon and Nicholas Monsarrat's The Cruel Sea. Besides offering good writing and fine judgment, each confirmed four conclusions that I'd drawn from my experiences near Fasrnet Rock. One is that the sound of a storm usually is more frightening than its appearance. Another is that while bad weather always threatens to come between people ("a great wind," Conrad wrote, "isolates one from one's own kind") , well-led crews unite rather than fracture. A third conclusion is that finger-pointing is usually wrongheaded after stormsdirty weather needs no human cooperation to beat up ships, thank you very much. Finally, every storm presents at least one moment of astonishing beauty that can change lives. During those five hectic weeks in London following the Fasrnet disaster, this last point drove me several rimes to an exhibition of stormscapes by]. M. W Turner, Phillipe-Jacques de Louthgerbourg, and other artists at the Tate Gallery. Those huge, magnificent canvasses presented storms both factually and spiritually. Tempests and Romantic Visionaries is a vivid reminder of those hours I spent with mouth agape. Ir is a gathering of superb paintings made mostly of dangerous seascapes (a handful are threatening landscapes). The 66 color plates, including many classics and some surprises, reproduce well on glossy paper. The accompanying text consists of five papers by art or cultural historians, some of whom express themselves in a scholarly jargon that the rest of us have to penetrate. Ir's usually worth the effort. For this sailor historian, the best paper is by Daniel Finamore of the Peabody Essex Museum. He writes not of genres and "sublime transcendance," bur of documents showing real ships and real sailors upon a real sea. A good painting is as much historical source material as a thoughtful novel. The section on what Finamore calls the "great disaster" of 1802, when a storm blew three ships onto Cape Cod, is superb. Paintings by Michele Felice Corne brilliantly show ships about to be (borrowing a phrase from another writer) "melted like a lump of sugar" by the surf. I have used one of those factual yet heartrending gems to illustrate a part in another book of mine about an exhausted captain who mistook one light for another and piled up on Fire Island. Perhaps the most curious things about Tempests are the name and place of its publisher. This is a catalog for an exhibition put on, not in Salem or Mystic or San Francisco, but in Oklahoma City. Here is excellent historical evidence of the universal significance of ships and JottN RousMANIERE, historian the sea. New York City SEA HISTORY 117, WINTER 2006-07

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Neith, 1996, Cover photograph

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