Art

There are many individual artworks that reflect shipbuilding. I have shown a few here, but have largely focused on artists or exhibitions which represent significant bodies of art that have been inspired by the industry. I’ve not included purely illustrative work.

noimage Shipyard at Dumbarton Sam Bough (1855)
A fine example of a shipyard appearing as a landscape. Before the advent of large-scale shipbuilding in iron the yards could be seen almost as pastoral. There are many other nineteenth-century paintings depicting shipyards in this manner.
noimage Charles W Wyllie (1853-1923)
Charles Wyllie was a respected English marine and landscape painter. This painting show the launch of HMS Indomitable in 1907, from the Fairfield shipyard on the Clyde. This is a very unusual angle for such an event to be depicted.

noimage John Lavery (1856-1941)
John Lavery was perhaps best known for his suburban landscapes and society portraits, but in 1900 he was commissioned to create a vast mural depicting shipbuilding on the Clyde for the newly constructed Glasgow City Chambers. During the First World War he was also a war artist and depicted activity in the shipyard workshops.

noimage James Kay (1858-1942)
James Kay was noted for his portrayal of the landscape and shipping of the Clyde. He was influenced by the impressionists and exhibited regularly in Paris. He won a gold medal at the 1903 Paris Salon for ‘River of the North’. He seemed to be particularly attracted to shipyard launches.

‘At one time he may paint a great liner coming up the river in chaise of two tugs, and at another a dirty ocean tramp full-up to Plimsoll-mark dropping slowly down on the first of the evening ebb ; now it will be a hopper barge hard at its seemingly ceaseless dredging, And again the intermittent but never suspended movement of small craft passing to and fro amongst the big ships which line the quays, while occasionally he makes a picture of a launch with its striking shipyard accessories of ship-frames and scaffolding, derricks and sheer-legs, and its background of boiler- shops and chimneys and smoke.’ James C. Law, Scottish Painting Past and Present 1620-1908, (London, 1908)

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noimage Joseph Pennell (1857-1926)
Joseph Pennell was an American artist and illustrator who was fascinated by the world of work. During the First World War he was an official war artist in both England and the US. Some of his images were used in propaganda posters. He had previously visited Germany and depicted the building of the Bismarck in Hamburg.

‘The Admiralty would not let me draw the naval shipyards, but here were merchant ships being built. I have never seen anything like these cranes nor the way they started to build the ships out of doors anywhere, and the ships just grew, and the cranes came and helped to build them.’ Joseph Pennell’s Pictures of War Work in England, London & Philadelphia, 1917)

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noimage Gerald M Burn (1862-1945)
Gerald M Burn was born in London and lived in Sussex. He specialized in marine and architectural subjects and painted the shipbuilding activity on the Thames in a number of paintings. His ‘Building a British Armour-clad: HMS Sanspareil’ was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1887 and ‘The Shipyard’ was shown in 1911.

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noimage Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956)
Brangwyn was a prolific artist and designer who was attracted to the world of work. Around 1910 he created a series of paintings and etchings depicting the structures and men of the Thames shipbuilding yards.

‘The gigantic skeleton and its upright scaffolding are made real with consummate ease, and surrounded with an atmosphere that beats and throbs with multiform labour. A storm grows up from behind some distant factories, but there’s sun enough to multiply the skeleton’s huge ribs with some shadows thrown by upright and slanting props. How minute are the men at work high up on this tremendous vessel! In the foreground some men in a line toil rhythmically, strapping fellows with characters that mark their attitudes, and they are but pigmies beside this embryo liner, which already has weight and power enough to ride out a storm on land without much peril.’ W.S. Sparrow, Prints and Drawings by Frank Brangwyn, (London, 1919)

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noimage Muirhead Bone (1876-1953)
Muirhead Bone was born in Glasgow and studied etching and printmaking, taking as his inspiration the buildings and shipyards in the city. He became the first official war artist of the First World War. In 1917 he visited the Clyde and produced a remarkable collection of drawings of shipyard activity.

‘There is the happiest correspondence between Mr Bone’s art, with its splendidly generalled armies of dutiful details, and an industry like shipbuilding in which a puissant unity of result is produced by the orderly joint action of multitudes of ant-like workers, every one of them indispensable while every one is indescribably dwarfed by the hugeness of that which he helps to produce.’ The Western Front, Drawings by Muirhead Bone, Part X, ‘Ship Building’, (London, 1917)

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noimage John C. Johansen (1876-1964)
Johansen was a Danish-American artist influenced by Impressionism and noted for his portraits. Between July 1918 and February 1919 he painted a series of 27 large paintings depicting wartime shipbuilding. ‘It seemed to me that if a record could be made of this all important branch of war industry – if I could put into them some of the enthusiasm and faith that American shipbuilding inspired in me – I could open the eyes of our people to heroic efforts and real accomplishments in a successful prosecution of the war. He worked at the Bristol yard of the Merchant Shipbuilding Corporation in Pennsylvania and the Hog Island yard at Philadelphia. An exhibition of the works toured widely and was described as ‘one of the most successful series of oils dealing with America’s war effort’. ‘John C. Johansen’s Shipyard Paintings’, American Magazine of Art, June 1919, 290-95.

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noimage Norman Wilkinson (1878-1971)
Norman Wilkinson was one of the UK’s finest and most prolific marine and poster artists. Much of his work was commissioned to feature on railway advertising posters, including some of his representations of shipbuilding.

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noimage Charles Ginner (1878-1952)
Charles Ginner was a member of the Camden Town Group of artists. He was commissioned as a war artist during the Second World War and produced one great image of shipbuilding ‘Building a Battleship’ (1940).

‘The steel-grey hull, nearly completed, of the most expensive form of fighting machine, so enormous when seen close and yet so seemingly small when riding the ocean.’ The Studio, 1940

noimage William Conor (1881-1968)
William Conor was famed for his depictions of working people in Belfast. The shipyards and their workers featured in many of his paintings.

‘The reaction of the life struggle in a manufacturing community upon the individual is nearly always the basis on which his art is founded. This idea pervades the fine painting ”The Launch” one of his most recent achievements. Here the interest does not center on the spectacle of the great ship sliding magnificently down the slip, but on the figures of the shipyard workers who watch intently the seal of final success set upon their labours.’ Colour, Nov/Dec 1923

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noimage Thornton Oakley (1881-1953)
Thornton Oakley was an American artist and illustrator. He was interested in ships and shipbuilding from an early age and wrote about his experiences. During the First World War he created a series of prints and drawings from the Hog Island Shipyard in Pennsylvania. During the Second World War he depicted the building of USS Alabama at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

‘Foundries roar, machine-shops clamor, the powerhouse resounds with the clang of engines, the whir of dynamos. There come the crashings of metal upon metal; of steel piercing steel; of huge machines punching, biting, trimming armor plate; of cranes with great hooks hovering, dropping, soaring with giant loads; and over all, the thunder of hydraulic hammers, the roar of rivets driven into iron.’ Thornton Oakley, ‘The Shipyard’, Harper’s Monthly Magazine, June 1909

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noimage Carroll Thayer Berry (1886 – 1978)
Berry originally worked as a naval architect, but then retrained as an artist. During the Second World War he was commissioned by Bath Iron Works, Maine, to depict the work of the shipyard.

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noimage Thomas C. Skinner (1889-1955)
Skinner was an American commercial artist and illustrator. In 1932 he was appointed as staff artist to the Mariner’s Museum and had a studio within the Newport News shipyard. He created a large number of shipyard scenes including ten huge murals as part of the museum’s Great Hall of Steam. His work also featured regularly on the Newport News works magazine Shipyard Bulletin. The ship he painted most was SS America. He liked to create an accurate likeness of his subjects, although he also employed a large amount of artistic license. He was probably the only artist with a permanent contract with a shipyard.

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noimage Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975)
Thomas Hart Benton was an American artist and muralist. During the First World War he served in the US Navy as a camouflage artist and was also made drawings and illustrations of shipyard work and life. During the Second World war he also depicted shipyard life as part of a commission from Abbott Laboratories to produce artworks about the navy. Most famous are his series of paintings showing the construction of LSTs at the American Bridge Company, Pittsburgh.

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noimage Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)
In 1940 Stanley Spencer was commissioned as a war artist to paint the shipbuilding activity at Lithgow’s yard at Port Glasgow. He became fascinated by the yard and its workers and conceived a project on a massive scale to depict the different trades toiling against the tangle of partly constructed ships. The resulting ‘Shipbuilding on the Clyde’ series has become the most iconic vision of shipbuilding. He depicts the workers in a stylized and romantic fashion, not to create an accurate record of the industry, but to reflect his own artistic and spiritual temperament.

‘It is a strange, but I think true, thing, that where human activity is arranged and organized to some constructive end (such as shipbuilding) it will, through another avenue altogether, namely the spiritual framework of artistic desires, form another structure, a construction of designs and spiritual harmony.’

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noimage Edna Reindel (1894-1990)
An American artist and illustrator. Reindel was commissioned byLife magazine in 1943 to depict women working for the war effort. She visited the California Shipbuilding Corporation at Wilmington and produced a number of sketches which she later worked up in her studio. Although criticized as being illustrative her art helped to popularize the role of ‘Rosie the Riveter’ during the war.

Her work was published in ‘Women at War’, Life, 5 June 1944, 74-8.

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noimage Sybil Andrews (1898-1992)
Sybil Andrews learned to paint in her spare time while working as an aircraft welder in the First World War. During the Second World War she returned to welding, working at the British Power Boat Company at Hythe.

‘To me it was a wonderful experience. We were given training and then set to work into the yards and on the boats side by side with the men. I asked if I could be given permission to make notes of the boats being built for me to work on after the war, and to my astonishment I was given authority to make sketches.’

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noimage Fred Jay Girling (1900-1982)
Fred Jay Girling was a self-taught English artist. He served his apprenticeship in naval architecture at Harland & Wolff in Belfast and then worked for the Ministry of Transport and Board of Trade at Newcastle, Glasgow and Leith. He mainly worked in watercolours and painted the scenes and ships that he encountered in his working life.

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noimage Frederick B Taylor (1906-1987)
Taylor was a Canadian artist with strong communist affiliations. At the start of the Second World War he lobbied to set up a Canadian war artist scheme, but he was never selected himself. He used his personal connections to gain access to the munitions works and the United Shipyards at Montreal. With no government support, he displayed his work in union halls and factory canteens.

‘My experience in painting war industry completely explodes the widely held idea that art only concerns the privileged and the initiated. This idea, or myth, is that art is not for the people. It is false. Workers are quick to recognize that art and life are one.’

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noimage Chinese Peasant Painting
Don’t know much about this image, but I like it. There are a few other examples of shipbuilding in Chinese peasant or Maoist art.

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noimage Shipyard Artists (1986)
An exhibition of work by the Swan Hunter Artists Group. The group included 15 artists working in various media. ‘Of course there are shipyard scenes, one painting showing cranes along the Tyne. There are others of HMS Ark Royal, built at Swan Hunter and HMS Sir Galahad, veteran of the Falklands’ Gazette, 29 May 1986. First major exhibition at the newly opened Wallsend Heritage Centre.
noimage Shipyard Artists II (1987)
A follow up exhibition by the Swan Hunter Artists Group. Held at the Wallsend Heritage Centre.
noimage Jim Collins (1947- )
Jim Collins worked at Govan’s Fairfield shipyard for over twenty years, until let go in 1989. He was often commissioned to create paintings of the ships he worked on during his day job. His art reflects the workers and ships of the shipyard and the sculptural shapes part-built sections of ships. He had a major retrospective exhibition ‘Sighting the Ways’ in 1997.

‘The process of building a ship provides the onlooker with an ever changing display of sculpture, each piece when complete being lost in the sheer mass of the final exhibit.’ Jim Collins, Govan Initiative Calendar, 1991.

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noimage Tom McKendrick (1948- )
Tom McKendrick served an apprenticeship as a ‘Loftsman’ in John Brown’s Shipyard before studying at Glasgow School of Art. His paintings and sculpture emerge from the processes of industry. In 1996 he created a stunning immersive exhibition called ‘Iron’ which mourned and celebrated the Clyde’s shipbuilding past. It acted as a temple of a lost civilization and contained works such as ‘Altar of the Sacred Hammers’, ‘The Great Timekeeper’ and the ‘Shrine of the Ready Reckoner’.

‘An exhibition dedicated to my family and friends of shipbuilding days, and to the unnamed thousands who toiled in brutal conditions to build the most fearsome, most beautiful and largest moving objects in human history.’

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noimage Eddie Millar (1953 – )
Eddie Millar and members of his family worked in the Belfast shipyards. ‘I worked at Harland and Wolff Shipyard as a welder for approximately five years (not long enough to call myself a shipyard man), but long enough for me to absorb a flavour of what it was all about, at least for the purpose of making a tribute in paint.’ He was commissioned to create the exhibition ‘Queen’s Island: the ships and the people’ for the Andrews Gallery, Belfast in 2015.

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noimage Ken Currie (1960 -)
Currie’s art celebrated a romanticised red Clydeside of heroic shipyard workers and firebrand shop stewards in response to the decline of the industry and the fight to save the yards through the UCS work-in. ‘In the mid-1980s I began making work about the slow decline of the shipbuilding industry on the Clyde. My father had served his apprenticeship in one of the Clyde yards just after WW2. I visited Govan Shipbuilders many times – to observe, study, take photographs and film. I met many of the workers there and found that a significant number of them had hidden talents – as writers, musicians, sculptors, philosophers, debaters. The idea that such genteel pursuits could thrive among the noise and physical toughness of the yards was remarkable – and worth celebrating.’

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noimage Over the Wall (2001)
An exhibition at the Vennel Gallery, Irvine that explored the artists who worked in the Clyde shipyards and who escaped to pursue their art. Artists included Tom McKendrick, Roy Fitzsimmons, Jim Collins and Peter McDougall.

The fact that the place that these careers began now barely exists, means that it might be easy to see the Clyde through rose-tinted nostalgia, but most of the work in Over The Wall doesn’t pull its punches. While George Wylie’s sculptures are a lament for the loss of industry, others are more sanguine. McKendrick’s picture of his friend Owen Lily is a shocking Christ-like image of a man dying of asbestosis. As artist Jim Sweeney writes, on the panel beside his works. ‘The yards were no Stanley Spencer painting.’ The Herald, 10 September 2001

Over the Wall, exhibition catalogue, (Irvine, 2001)

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noimage Anthony J. Hall (-)
Tony Hall never wanted to work in the shipyards like his father, who only escaped after being injured in an accident. He is proud of his heritage and his art is a way of documenting the past. The shipbuilders featured in his paintings are based on relatives and characters who worked in Swan Hunter’s Neptune Yard, and those he observed whilst growing up in the area. His work was displayed in the exhibition ‘This Time Then’ at the Bob Abley Gallery, Spennymoor in 2015.

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noimage Ryan Mutter (1978 – )
Sepia-tinged nostalgia from Clydeside. ‘There will be kids growing up near the Clyde who – if you didn’t tell them about the shipbuilding – probably wouldn’t know what used to be there,’ says Ryan. ‘That’s one of the things that drives me.’ Something that I’m always trying to capture is the atmosphere of a time and a sense of loss.’

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noimage The Shipyard Painters (2016)
An exhibition at the Old Low Light Heritage Centre in North Shields celebrating the shipyard artists of Tyneside. The exhibition featured eleven artists who all worked at Swan Hunter as draughtsmen, carpenters, shipwrights, platers and welders. The exhibition told the story of how a group of shipyard workers relieved the monotony of their day jobs by producing a stunning catalogue of original artworks. Some of these artists worked all their lives in the shipyards, whilst others used their talent to break away from the yards to pursue a full-time artistic career. Artists included Peter Burns, Edward Jackson, Margaret Mole, Peter Mayne and Roy Francis Kirkton.

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