Milan, 6 January 2020
A week ago, my wife and I were taking a walk from Santa Margherita Ligure up to the National Park of the Monte di Portofino, a park we walk in often when we are in Liguria. At some point, as we climbed, we got a magnificent view over the Gulf of Tigullio – it was a beautiful sunny day, with a little haze. Out there on the waters, I could barely make out the white sails of two sailing boats.
Those sails might have been mere specks on the water’s surface, but the sight of them was enough to bring me back to my – very modest – experience of sailing on the Norfolk Broads when I was a young lad.
I have always been fascinated by the three-dimensional shapes which more-or-less triangular or square sails will take under pressure from the wind. I’m sure there are articles which will give you mathematical descriptions of these three-dimensional shapes – I tried just now to find such an article but failed to find any for which I didn’t have to pay. But the point is that sails taut in the wind are just beautiful shapes to look at, whatever mathematical formulae are used to describe them.
Many artists from ages past have also been touched by the sheer beauty of sails, so in memory of those days which I spent as a young boy looking at those sails taut and humming in the wind, I include here a little gallery of some of the nicer paintings I came across of boats under sail.
Simon de Vlieger’s “A Dutch Ferry Boat before the Breeze”, from the late 1640s
Charles Powell’s “Shipping in the Downs”, from the early 1800s
William Bradford’s “Clipper Ship ‘Northern Light’ of Boston”, of 1854
His “The Kennebec River, Waiting for Wind and Tide”, of 1860
James Webb’s “Seascape”, from the 1860s, 1870s
Konstantinos Volanakis’s “Boat”, from the 1870s or thereabouts
Anton Melbye’s “Laguna di Venezia”, of 1878
Winslow Homer’s “Sailing off Gloucester”, probably from the 1880s
Antonio Jacobsen’s “Sappho vs. Livonia, Americas Cup, 1871”
His “Rounding the Mark, NYCC Regatta”, of 1886
His “Tidal Wave and Dreadnought”, of 1908
His quieter, more reflective “Lumber Schooner in New York’s Lower Bay”, of 1894
In a more “modern” (i.e., Impressionist) key, we have Monet’s “Sailboat at le Petit-Gennevilliers”, of 1873
and Maxime Maufra’s “Tuna Boat at Sea”, of 1907
At this point, photography took over, black and white at first, then colour. So to complete my gallery, I throw in a couple of modern photos of old yachts.
The yacht “Orion”
The yacht “Vagrant”
The yacht “Mariette”