Lighthouses as Beacons for Artists

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LIGHTHOUSES AS BEACONS FOR ARTISTS

By Victoria Chick, contemporary figurative artist and early 19th & 20th Century Print Collector

Although lighthouses existed to mark the ports of ancient civilizations, they were not recorded as subject matter by the artists of their time. Some drawings of lighthouse ruins have been left to us by archeologists of the 1800s. It was not until the 18th century, beginning the era of widespread naval trade, that the building of lighthouses proliferated. Obviously practical, they also came to be thought of as romantic symbols and began to appear in the work of visual artists. By the end of the 18th century, most every county with a coastline had artists that placed lighthouses in their paintings.

Besides their architectural beauty, there were and are a number of qualities associated with lighthouses that contributed and still contribute to their being symbols having anthropomorphic relationships with human feelings. The isolation of lighthouses manned by a single individual often represents loneliness. Lighthouses were engineered to withstand huge storms, monstrous waves, and extreme temperatures giving them a reputation for strength and the idea of survival – a symbol of mans’ struggle with nature. The lighthouse purpose of guiding ships to harbor or warning of reefs; the joy of sailors on seeing a lighthouse after coming through stormy seas all made the lighthouse synonymous with comfort and safety.

In art and in life, lighthouses are sometimes viewed as relics of the past. In 2000, the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act was passed that transferred lighthouses to local and non-profit control, with the U.S. Coast Guard still maintaining the lamps and lenses. This was done because with the passing of years, modern invention and technology have rendered lighthouses less necessary for safe navigation.

Some 20th century paintings of lighthouses stress their purity of form and sculptural qualities rather than the original utilitarian purpose. These paintings are usually done from the land side perspective rather than the ocean side perspective. Earlier artists stressed the sailors’ dependency on the lighthouse by showing the relationship between the lighthouse, the sky, and the action of the water to the boat or ship.

The position of the lighthouse as a symbol changed with some art styles in the late 19th century, when art forms became as important as the objects in the paintings. For example, Impressionist and Pointillist artists used the shape of the lighthouse as an excuse to paint the way light reflected off its surface. They were interested in the sun, not the lighthouse, per se. Nevertheless, through history, paintings including lighthouses have connected visually and emotionally with a large public.

Artists will continue in the 21st Century to paint lighthouses thanks to preservation efforts in the United States and other countries.

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico. She received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio. Visit her website at www.ArtistVictoriaChick.com


About the Author:

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico. She received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio.

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