I believe that style and elegance go in and out of fashion and we tend to think people in the past had more poise and élan than now. In my opinion we are currently not in a very stylish age but things are changing. Land transport may still be largely utilitarian but once again lovely ships sail the seas.
Ships often feature beautiful artworks from the majestic figureheads of the sailing era to stunning displays on great liners.
A painting by Norman Wilkinson is perhaps the most famous artwork on a ship. The Approach to Plymouth Harbour hung above the mantelpiece in the First Class smoking room on the Titanic. It has been represented in many films and TV documentaries about the disaster. Thomas Andrews, the Titanic’s designer and a hero of the tragedy, was last seen staring fixedly at the painting, awaiting his fate. Shortly afterwards Titanic plunged beneath the waves, taking Andrews and about 1,500 people to their deaths.
At Merseyside Maritime Museum there are a number of artworks which once graced famous ships.
There is one of a pair of glass panels removed from the officers’ wardroom on the doomed Lusitania, sunk by a German U-boat submarine in 1915.The pretty oval panel has a flower design and subtle tones and shades. It was removed by a joiner in Liverpool because the other one of the pair was cracked.
There are six stunning decorative glass panels from the Mauretania II, built at Cammell Laird’s in 1939. They were rescued when the ship was broken up in 1965. The panels were originally displayed in the Cabin Class (1st Class) restaurant. Each image – based on the signs of the zodiac – represents a specific date in the history of Mauretania II. One is shown here.
There is a large, intricately-painted mural from a lesser-known ship, the Blue Funnel line’s Ixion. John Mansbridge painted the panel in 1951 for the officers’ lounge. When Liverpool Blue Funnel founders Alfred and Philip Holt began naming their ships, they chose names taken from the Odyssey and Iliad.
Homer’s heroes provided inspiration for their own epic adventures as shipowners – their ships were among the most advanced of their time. Other mythical figures are depicted in the mural including Mrs Lawrence Holt, who launched Ixion, as Britannia with her husband as Neptune.
The Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 (2004) has many exquisite artworks including massive polished bronze reliefs, murals and tapestries.
A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).