Stuart Frank, New Bedford Whaling Museum
“Harpooning a Whale,” 1925 by Anton Otto Fischer (1882–1962). Kendall Collection, New Bedford Whaling Museum
“Portrait of Captain Mercator Cooper,” circa 1835 by Hubbard Fordham (1794–1872). New Bedford Whaling Museum
“South Sea Whaling,” circa 1895–1900 by William Edward Norton (1843–1916). New Bedford Whaling Museum
Marine painting is a distinctive genre of the fine arts that requires more detailed analysis than the aesthetic, stylistic, cultural and historical criteria by which landscape, seascape, sill life and portraiture are customarily appreciated. Marine painting requires an additional dimension of rigorous, highly specialized technical proficiency regarding naval architecture and representational realism.
Marine painting and seascape, for example - each valid and valuable in its own right - are not the same thing. Seascape is mostly about salt water and sunlight, shorelines and sky, wind, storm clouds and crashing waves. Seascapes can be gloriously evocative, even mystically abstract. Seascapes are perhaps at their best and most powerful when they are about nature.
Orthodox marine painting, however, is about human artifice and human enterprise, ships, boats, livelihoods, seafaring and seaborne commerce. For a marine painting to be successful - whether aesthetically or commercially - it must first surmount the threshold of technical accuracy and naturalistic proficiency demanded by occupational patrons, maritime stakeholders and devout collectors for whom it was produced. And, as in any genre, there are undercurrents of referents, and conventions of style and execution that, in the most capable hands, proclaim the authority and insights of what the artist commits to canvas. Stuart Frank’s presentation will explore these fundamental criteria that characterize and distinguish marine painting from other genres, using exemplary American manifestations.
Dr. Frank will also examine the notions of context and specificity, and the significance of the “aha!” or “shock of recognition” phenomenon. He will explore the various relationships of marine painting to other genres of fine art, including Renaissance and Baroque religious painting and especially academic portraiture.
Stuart Frank’s academic voyage began with a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan. He launched his post-graduate education with master’s degrees from Yale and Brown. His doctorate is from Brown, where his dissertation was Ballads and Songs of the Whale-Hunters, 1825-1895.
Dr. Stuart Frank is senior curator of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, founder and director of the Scrimshaw Forensics Laboratory, executive director emeritus of the Kendall Whaling Museum and author of eight books, 15 monographs and more than 50 articles (including The Magazine Antiques) and chapters on maritime art, history, literature and music. Dr. Frank’s publications include Herman Melville’s Picture Gallery: The “Pictorial Chapters” of Moby Dick; Dictionary of Scrimshaw Artists and More Scrimshaw Artists; The Book of Pirate Songs; Jolly Sailors Bold: Ballads and Songs of the American Sailor; and Ingenious Contrivances: Scrimshaw in the New Bedford Whaling Museum. He is working on Classic Whaling Prints; Dutch Old Masters in the New Bedford Whaling Museum; and The Wealth of Seven Shores: Japanese Prints of Whales and Whaling. His monographs include: Songs of the Polly, 1795: A Garland of Songs, Ballads, and Ditties from Stephen Cahoon’s Journal aboard the Whaleship Polly of Gloucester, Massachusetts; “Musick on the Brain”: Frederick Howland Smith’s Shipboard Tunes, 1854-1869 and Ooh, You New York Girls! The Urban Pastorale in Ballads and Songs about Sailors Ashore in the Big City.
Dr. Frank founded the sea music interpretation program and annual Sea Music Festival at Mystic Seaport. He has performed lecture-concerts, concerts and recorded historic sea music with his wife, Mary Malloy.
Dr. Frank has taught maritime subjects at the Williams College program in Maritime Studies and the Munson Institute at Mystic Seaport; the Sea Education Association at Woods Hole, Massachusetts; Brown University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Roger Williams University. Dr. Frank spoke to the Forum in April, 2009 about “Scrimshaw, the Whalemen’s Art.”