The ocean and its creatures as art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City just announced that it making more than 400,000 digital images of public domain art available on its website free of charge for non-commercial use. I am sure is making art history departments all over the country emanate squeals of research glee. But I’ll admit, as an ocean and art lover I also mini-squealed. The collection is just a treasure trove (a pirate’s booty, if you will) of depictions of marine life and activities from ancient to modern times. So many cultures, so many styles, so many different depictions of the sea and our relationship to it. I’ve shared a smattering of my favorite ones from a variety of civilizations and time periods below, but I also encourage you to search the collection for more. Post your favorites in the comments below!

Stylized curly-armed octopus from ancient Greece. SQUΣΣ! [Greece, ca. 1600–1500 B.C.]

Crab-Demon Bottle. I am afraid. That is all. [Moche, South America, 4th–7th century]

Matilda was very upset she chose to catch the earlier ship, as an unfortunate storm delayed her arrival indefinitely. [Jean Pillement, 1782 or 1792]

I have so many questions about this gorgeous necklace for nobles. How did they get walrus ivory for the hook? How many Hawaiians were balded to make the ropes of human hair?  [Hawai’i, early 19th century]

Battling the waves and receiving visions of prayers [Utagawa Kuniyoshi, ca. 1835]

Illustration of the ancient Japanese proverb: Beware of crabs with tasseled ropes [Japan, 1807–1891]

Attempting to conquer the vastness of the ocean by laying transatlantic telegraph cable [Robert Charles Dudley, ca. 1866]

The front of every ship needs one of these ornate prows. Comes complete with comma-like representations of chambered nautiluses. [Papua New Guinea, Milne Bay Province 19th–early 20th century]

Why you so sad little Bowhead? [Alutiiq, Alaska 20th century]

The Pacific Ocean imagined as a costume for an Art Deco play, just stunning. [Erté (Romain de Tirtoff) 1928]

The ocean as a place for recreation. The mob scene at Coney Island. [Walker Evans, 1928–30]

Raised bulla on seaweed leaves aids in nutrient uptake and make lovely mazes on prints. [Edward Weston 1930, printed ca. 1954]

Would Holly wear this scarf? [Madeleine Vionnet, ca. 1935]

LOVE this print of the interference created by waves reflecting from a wall. [Berenice Abbott 1950s]

This photo of the North Atlantic is just haunting. Or emo. [Hiroshi Sugimoto 1989]

Teenager on the beach. All modern photos of waves must contain the appropriate amount of ennui. [Rineke Dijkstra, 1992]

All images are from Original images and information can be accessed by clicking on the image, which links back to the Metropolitan Museum Collection.

Dr. Martini (156 Posts)

Kim is a Senior Oceanographer at Sea-Bird Scientific. She received her Ph.D. in Physical Oceanography from the University of Washington in 2010. Her goal in life is to throw expensive s**t in the ocean. When not at sea, she has used observations from moored, satellite and land-based instruments to understand the pathways that wind and tidal energy take from large (internal tides) to small scales (turbulence). Her current mission is to make your oceanographic data be the best data it can be.

2 Replies to “The ocean and its creatures as art”

  1. This is an important milestone and one I feel we should push for in all areas of history and science. Art is a driving force of passion and passion a driving force of science. The two are like the proverbial circle of humanity . Thank you for sharing!

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