Making Waves: The Symbolism of Water in Art

TIM STORRIER. Fine Art. Leonard Joel Auction

Water can hold a number of different meanings, especially when included in art. In certain circumstances it may allude to purity and cleansing, or perhaps serenity and tranquility, yet can also symbolise nature’s unpredictability and volatility.

TIM STORRIER. Fine Art. Leonard Joel Auction
TIM STORRIER (born 1949)
The Scattering 2003
oil on canvas, 122 x 245cm

Water, or specifically the ocean, carries with it an untamed power. It’s vastness often reminds us of our own fragile mortality. Tim Storrier’s “The Scattering” displays the deep and vast ocean set across the 2.45 metre canvas. Here we see flowers scattered across the top as a symbol to honour the deceased – a ‘memento mori’. Aside from this delicate scattering, there is no indication of human interference – just nature at its purest.

CLARICE BECKETT. Fine Art. Leonard Joel Auction
Beaumaris Seascape c.1928
oil on board
18 x 22cm

Whilst the ocean can reveal a great power, it can also instil serenity and tranquility and reinforce our connection to the land. Clarice Beckett was an artist regularly enamoured by the mystical qualities of the ocean, viewed from the shore. Living in the Melbourne seaside suburb of Beaumaris, Beckett made the most of her moments outdoors painting en plein air. Through quick brushwork and a tonalist perspective, Beckett captures the warm and peaceful elements of the seaside. Her seaside pictures general imply a voyeuristic element as viewed from the shore, cementing the separation between land and water.

JOHN FIRTH-SMITH. Fine Art. Leonard Joel Auction
JOHN FIRTH-SMITH (born 1943)
Sleeping Boats 1 1975
pastel on paper, 67.5 x 140cm

Similarly to Beckett, John Firth-Smith captures the serenity of the water’s surface with sweeping circular strokes for the ripples and light motions of the water suggesting disturbance to the stillness from the boats atop. This connection to the water stems from his years growing up seaside in New Zealand and developing a love for sailing. His paintings of the water are, therefore, his impressions and personal connections to the subject. In this regard, it is much like the iconic waterside painting “Impression Sunrise” by Claude Monet, lauded as the instigator to the movement of Impressionism. The painting is cemented in art history as a symbol of an artist’s freedom to paint en plein air in a way that responds to them personally, which for Monet was heavily drawn on colour and light.

Fine Art. Leonard Joel Auction
Claude Monet – Impression
Sunrise, 1872.
Oil on canvas, 48cm x 63 cm.
Collection Musée Marmottan Monet

Water remains one of the most majestic elements, which has unsurprisingly captured the attention of artists past and present. Throughout art history, it has been utilised as a symbol for purity, tranquility, power, and mortality by artists that speaks to art collector’s alike.


Banner Image (Detail): TIM STORRIER (born 1949) The Scattering 2003, oil on canvas, 122 x 245cm | $100,000-140,000

June 2022