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Painting, Shipwreck

Painting, Shipwreck

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This large oil of a shipwreck is by Anglo-American artist Edward Moran (1829-1901), best known for his marine paintings. Born in England, he and his three brothers were trained in weaving by their father; all four later became artists. The family emigrated to Maryland in 1844, and Moran is listed as an artist in the 1857 New York city directory. In 1862 he returned to England and Europe, where he studied for a decade. Throughout his life he continued to travel extensively and paint.
This particular painting depicts a large, unnamed sailing ship in her death throes. The vessel has been dismasted-almost certainly by the storm filling the background and whipping up the sea in the foreground. The ship is down by the stern and listing or leaning to the starboard side, shipping water. Two upper masts are visible in the water in the foreground, with men clinging to them for life support. Many common sailors did not know how to swim, so they had to hold onto something floating if they had any hope of rescue. Two life boats are pulling for the men trapped on the rigging, fishing desperate sailors out of the water as they can. It is not clear whether the small boats are from the sinking ship or a rescue vessel.
While the vessel's name is unknown, the presence of an open gunport in the port bow indicates a warship. Merchant vessels often had painted gunports along their hulls to look more dangerous from a distance, but the water running out of the corner of this one indicates the real thing. But lacking any means of identification, the painting is probably best viewed as an allegory for the power of nature over man.
Currently not on view
Object Name
painting, oil
date made
ca 1858
Moran, Edward
Physical Description
oil on canvas (overall material)
without frame: 41 in x 61 in; 104.14 cm x 154.94 cm
with frame: 51 in x 71 in; 129.54 cm x 180.34 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Cigna Maritime Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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