Yachting as a leisuretime activity and competitive sport didn’t really get going until the early nineteenth century. Before that, sailing vessels were owned by the rich and used for their pleasure, but their primary purpose generally remained work.
Oddly, though, sailing vessels took to the land considerably earlier, if this painting by one of the circle of Esaias van de Velde is to be believed. In Sandyacht Race in the Presence of Prince Maurice of Nassau on the Beach at Scheveningen (1608), large sail-powered vehicles drive along this beach on the Dutch coast of the North Sea.
Yachting started with the foundation of the first modern yacht club, the Royal Cork Yacht Club, in 1720, but was slow to develop. The ancestor of the Royal Yacht Squadron was formed in London in 1815, and in 1826 it arranged the world’s first sailing regatta for leisure craft, held at Cowes on the Isle of Wight, England, where the Squadron still has its clubhouse. In 1844, the New York Yacht Club was formed, and in 1851 those two clubs raced around the Isle of Wight, inaugurating the America’s Cup.
Claude Monet moved to the port of Le Havre, on the Channel coast of France, when he was only four years old, and it was there that he grew up and started his career as a painter. He made The Mouth of the Seine, Honfleur in 1865, when he was still working in realist style, although even at this stage the painterly approach of Boudin is apparent in his brushwork.
Yachting then flourished across the whole of Europe and in North America, often enjoying royal patronage.
In 1882, the Norwegian artist Christian Krohg went to stay in Skagen, Denmark, for much of the next two years, in its Impressionist art colony. His sailing painting Hard Alee (1882) was exhibited in the Salon in Paris that year, and was one of the silver wedding gifts from the Norwegian people to King Oscar II and Queen Sophia of Nassau – who were also the king and queen of Sweden, as the countries were in union at the time.
Krohg’s yachtsman is here sailing a small vessel singlehanded. The tiller, his arms, and a line he is holding with his left hand trace a bold and dynamic zigzag down the centre of the canvas.
Yachting became a popular theme among the British Impressionists too. Philip Wilson Steer’s Summer at Cowes from 1888 is a fine early example, and looks west from the ferry port of East Cowes, across the mouth of the River Medina towards the town which had by then become the centre of English yachting.
Gustave Caillebotte was an avid racing yachtsman who owned his own boatyard, and chronicled the rapid growth in watersports on the rivers around Paris. Although his masterwork Skiffs on the Yerres (1877) is more leisurely than competitive sport, and its participants use paddles rather than sails, it was all part of the same growth in watersports. Here the bourgeois are out enjoying some time on the river – a very nineteenth-century phenomenon.
Cailebotte’s later Sailboats on the Seine at Argenteuil (1892) is perhaps the finest of his yachting scenes.
In the late 1890s, Christian Krohg returned to painting maritime motifs. These included yachting, as in The Shoal of 1898, which shows a small wood-hulled cruising yacht sailing past a post mounted on a submerged pinnacle. In the depths below the post there are vague forms which suggest the hidden shoal. Unusually for Krohg, there is not a single figure to be seen, just the marker, the boat, and a choppy sea.
Tomorrow I’ll conclude this small selection of paintings of yachting with examples from the early twentieth century, and some of art’s greatest leisuretime sailors.