Looking Out To Sea

In stories, if a character is looking out to sea they’re frequently experiencing epiphany. In art, too, there’s no shortage of characters gazing out to sea. The guy giving the sermon below clearly understands the epiphanic power of the ocean, especially in combination with the higher altitude of a clifftop.

John MacWhirter - A Sermon by the Sea
John MacWhirter – A Sermon by the Sea

These days we are technologically connected to each other, but there was a time when saying goodbye to a loved one sailing off on a ship was a separation akin to death. That was the case for my own emigrant ancestors, who sailed to New Zealand in the mid 1800s. They never returned to England, Scotland and Ireland. Nor did their children or their children’s children.

Frank Holl - No Tidings from the Sea 1870
Frank Holl – No Tidings from the Sea 1870
Lockesley Hall by John Everett Millais in Poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1864
Lockesley Hall by John Everett Millais in Poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1864

Sometimes in art, a male character looks out to sea.

Make and Make-Believe by Arthur I. Gates and Miriam Blanton Huber, Macmillan, 1931 looking out to sea
Make and Make-Believe by Arthur I. Gates and Miriam Blanton Huber, Macmillan, 1931

These old fellows gaze out to sea because they share a special interest in ships.

Harald Skogsberg old sailors watch ships from pier

For young boys, the sea promises adventure.

Jessie Willcox Smith Daddy's Over There, 1918
Jessie Willcox Smith Daddy’s Over There, 1918
John Bauer Troll på Lur (Troll Hiding behind Cliffs), 1911
John Bauer Troll på Lur (Troll Hiding behind Cliffs), 1911

But the image of the pretty young woman gazing out across the ocean is ubiquitous. I suspect this is a fantasy designed to buoy the spirits of sailors. It’s nice to think that life stands still for you on shore. The fantasy is no doubt enjoyed by young women, too, because an absent lover allows for the erotics of abstinence.

CHERI HEROUARD cover art 1916
CHERI HEROUARD cover art 1916
Cover by Sergio Burzi, 1927
Cover by Sergio Burzi, 1927
Stars for Sale by Ralph Pallen Coleman (1892-1968) looking out to sea
Stars for Sale by Ralph Pallen Coleman (1892-1968) looking out to sea
Charles Courtney Curran - The Boulder
Charles Courtney Curran – The Boulder
1918, Warren Davis (1865-1928)
1918, Warren Davis (1865-1928)
From Kipling's A Song of the English. Illustrated by W. Heath Robinson
From Kipling’s A Song of the English. Illustrated by W. Heath Robinson

The nubile young woman near the sea is all tied up with folklore of mermaids and sirens.

Siren (Sirene) ~ 1892 ~ Hans Thoma (1839-1924)
Siren (Sirene) ~ 1892 ~ Hans Thoma (1839-1924)
Thomas Bromley Blacklock - Sea Maidens mermaid
Thomas Bromley Blacklock – Sea Maidens

Sirens can be pretty evil (until they are imaginatively eroticised) but there are plenty of other fantasy creatures which threaten to pop out of the sea.

Paul Hey (1867-1952) The Magic Fish
Paul Hey (1867-1952) The Magic Fish

I suspect this woman is thinking hard about fish for dinner.

John McGhie (1867 – 1952)

I’m a little concerned about this woman’s intentions.

Laura Knight 'A Dark Pool' 1918
Laura Knight ‘A Dark Pool’ 1918
Winslow Homer (1836 - 1910) Watching The Breakers, 1891
Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910) Watching The Breakers, 1891

What is Raggedy Ann telling Andy? Without reading the book I’ll never guess, as their smiles are sewn on.

Endpage illustration for Raggedy Ann and Andy by Indianapolis artist and author Johnny Gruelle, 1929
Endpage illustration for Raggedy Ann and Andy by Indianapolis artist and author Johnny Gruelle, 1929
Illustration for Shukan Shincho (1966) by Rokuro Taniuchi (1921-1981). If you’re thinking of Ponyo right now, you’re not alone.
Looking out to sea, From 'The Children's Encyclopedia' published by Arthur Mee
Looking out to sea, From ‘The Children’s Encyclopedia’ published by Arthur Mee
by Tove Jansson for 'Moomin's Winter Follies', a story from a Moomin picture strip of the 50s, colourised & re-published in 2012
by Tove Jansson for ‘Moomin’s Winter Follies’, a story from a Moomin picture strip of the 50s, colourised & re-published in 2012
from The Illustrated Children's Bible 1976, Nevile Dear
The Illustrated Children’s Bible 1976, Nevile Dear

The space ship is the sci-fi equivalent of the ship, so of course we have similar images of women looking for men who have gone away on exciting adventures.

Virgil Finlay (1914-1971) 1951 illustration for 'The Wanderer's Return' by Fletcher Pratt
Virgil Finlay (1914-1971) 1951 illustration for ‘The Wanderer’s Return’ by Fletcher Pratt
Lemon girl young adult novella

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