Poster of the exhibition at the Maritime Museum of Barcelona

Portraits of Ships: an exhibition that connects with maritime history

An exhibition at the Maritime Museum of Barcelona shows how the portraits of ships have evolved as a result of technological advances and social change.

Since ancient times there have been graphic representations of ships, but we can rarely identify them, i.e. know their name and their history The Maritime Museum of Barcelona presents the exhibition Portrait of Ships: From the 19th Century to the Shipspotter, which shows us how portraits of ships have evolved with technological advances and social changes: adapting to the image representation tools of each moment, changing the reasons for the portrait, who commissioned it, as well as the profiles of the authors and the way in which they are disseminated.

The exhibition begins with a brief introduction, showing some antecedents from the 18th century; from here, a chronological journey is made showing how the way these portraits have been painted and the techniques used have changed. From the 19th century, with the growth of the large shipping companies and the beginning of a great demand and production of painted portraits of ships, to the present day, with shipspotters or shipwatchers, present in ports all over the world, who, in addition to images, also share technical information about the vessels.

Within the museum's pictorial collection as a whole, the collection of portraits of ships is particularly noteworthy. This type of painting is very typical of maritime museums, but it can also be found in private homes, where families keep images of the ships that their ancestors owned or commanded.

The boat portrait is a painting that aims to show a specific boat as faithfully as possible, a kind of photograph of the vessel. There is a desire to identify and characterise it specifically, with its name and flag, the owner's password or flag, and generally an identifying legend or a reference to a character or event. They are generally signed by very prolific painters (Pineda, Evans, Mongay, Amat, Martí Barrionuevo, etc.) and are dated. As can be seen, the most important thing is to show the ship as it is, and aesthetic issues are secondary; even the background, whether it is the open sea or a port, is of minor importance.

Curiously, the great age of ship portraiture coincided with the development of photography, since it is very difficult to capture a ship at sea with a camera, seen from the side and in great detail, something that painting could do.

The Museu Marítim de Barcelona is a space for the interpretation and dissemination of Catalan maritime culture in an innovative, participatory way, close to society and the territory, through research, conservation and safeguarding of heritage. It aims to be a benchmark institution for Mediterranean maritime culture, open and accessible to the whole of society, and cooperative with people and organisations. Tickets must be purchased physically at the Museum ticket office. Internet sales are not available.

Publication date: Friday, 09 June 2023
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