After a morning’s pampering in the Atlantis Spa on board Boudicca, I floated back to my cabin in a fluffy robe and slippers (hoping nobody would notice my shiny face and crazy hair) and then managed to lose my sense of direction, finishing up in a corridor lined with rare vintage Hermes scarves. No detox dream, this was simply my good fortune to have taken one set of stairs down, rather than up. I examined each of the exquisite silk squares on deck three until a passenger asked if I was lost.
Discovering such treasures enhanced my week-long cruise in the Norwegian fjords where, during days at sea, I walked every deck to discover a surprising range of art. The Olsen family has sourced a huge collection over the generations and the line’s four ships reflect the sophisticated taste of this Norwegian shipping dynasty. How fantastic to find wall after wall of Nordic art alongside British favourites from David Prentice (founder of Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery), a linocut blue boat by East Anglian artist James Dodds and garden scenes by Sussex-based Louis Turpin: exuberant red-hot pokers, nasturtiums and rudbeckias in blazing-hot summer beds.
I later learnt that a passenger had told owner Fred Olsen about Turpin’s work; he arrived at the artist’s studio in Rye and bought six paintings. “It was a really good day,” said Turpin, who accepted an invitation to visit the ship.
But Olsen is far from alone in exhibiting astonishing art. Visually compelling installations can be found on some of the world’s biggest ships. Britain’s largest art collection at sea is scattered tastefully across P&O Cruises’ flagship Britannia in the form of ceramics, wall reliefs and tasteful tapestries. More than 8,000 works range from tactile stone sculptures by Luke Dickinson (in Sindhu restaurant) to Johnny Bull’s The Spirit of Modern Britain installation, created after the British public put forward its humorous definition of the nation on Facebook.
The piece puts the Queen and her corgis, JK Rowling, Dr Who and actor Daniel Craig in a queue, and features British emblems including the Red Arrows, Glastonbury and Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North sculpture. For its newest ship Iona, launching in 2020, the line has asked guests to send in photos, the best of which will be used to create two large pieces of art that will sit alongside a multimillion-pound collection being curated by Tom Tempest Radford.
Viking Cruises, which has just announced a partnership with the British Museum for the exhibition Edvard Munch: Love and Angst (from April 11 to July 21), is the custodian of the largest private collection of Munch artwork outside Oslo, with 28 original pieces by the Norwegian expressionist painter displayed across its ocean ships. An interesting collection of original artwork includes Munch’s Self Portrait with Skeleton Arm (1895) on Viking Orion. So-called “Munch Moments” enhanced by classical music from Scandinavian composers including Edvard Grieg and Jean Sibelius bring the painter’s work to life on board.
The heritage of richly decorated Viking tall ships, with intricate carvings of dragon heads and flowers, is honoured on a new expedition ship, Roald Amundsen, being launched by Hurtigruten this year. The ship will showcase 600 unique works by young Norwegian artists, each hand-picked by HM Queen Sonja of Norway’s art foundation.
Not surprisingly, Cunard’s three queens between them carry a multimillion-pound art collection, including a specially commissioned portrait of the Queen by Isobel Peachey. At 31, Peachey was the youngest artist to paint the monarch, who gave her name to the 2,000-passenger Queen Elizabeth in 2010. Cunard’s flagship, Queen Mary 2, carries more than 5,000 works of art. The showstopper is the largest hand-woven tapestry at sea, created by Dutch artist Barbara Broekman. Depicting a liner against the skyline of New York (end point of Cunard’s transatlantic cruises) it hangs in the Britannia restaurant.
Thousands of passengers used Holland America Line’s ships to travel from Rotterdam to New York from the late 1800s. Although subsumed by cruise giant Carnival HAL’s rich Dutch heritage is celebrated in its art. Flagship MS Koningsdam features art from both sides of the Atlantic, including wacky colour-pop Bambi prints by Dutch artist Paco Raphael and a £40,000 ceramic “rabbit” by California-based Tim Berg and Rebekah Meyers. A musical theme runs through the ship’s interior design, and the 2,000 artworks include a wooden ship with a cello for its hull and a mesmerising sculpture called Harps in the atrium.
Koningsdam’s sister ship, Nieuw Statendam, which launched in December 2018, continues the musical narrative and features 150 artists with works including a clever tumble of drum cymbals, Rhythm ll – Steel and bronze sculpture, by Matt McConnell to prints of the Dutch Golden Age such as Still Life with Delft Jug by Kevin Best.Guests can also get in touch with their arty side during ‘meet the artist’ programmes and join workshops to practise their own artistic skills.
Seabourn Ovation doubles as a floating art gallery, displaying commissioned works by artists such as Korean ceramicist Yoo Eui Jeong, whose hand-made vases have been exhibited at London’s V&A. There is also glasswork from the late Murano-born sculptor Luciano Vistosi and − a passenger favourite − the hand-blown shoal of fish Sinou Glass by Jiafa Xia.
Royal Caribbean International’s 6,680-passenger ship Symphony of the Seas channels art’s more humorous side with its Beetle Sphere (a car literally rolled into a ball) by Ichwan Noor in the Royal Promenade, Meltdown (a melting lollipop) by pop sculptor Desire Cherish, and Paradox Void by Gregor Kregar. On the new Celebrity Edge The Pendulum, an installation from Jouin Manku Studio, hangs through three storeys and moves to the rhythm of the ocean. The latest Celebrity Cruises commission, it is part of a vast collection including Anish Kapoor’s stainless-steel sculpture Superstition (2011) and Damien Hirst’s grid-like spot painting Secobarbital (1995). Both are on Celebrity Silhouette where pop art devotees can also find Roy Lichenstein’s Landscape with Poet (1996) and George and Gilbert’s bold skateboarder artwork Upon (1992).
British design studios are being championed on Saga Cruises’ first new-build ship Spirit of Discovery, due to launch in July. Saga’s chief executive Lance Batchelor, a National Gallery trustee, wanted to create a canvas for emerging British artists as well as established ones. The 1,500-piece collection will contrast Paul and John Nash, Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious with neo-romantics such as John Craxton.
Oceania Cruises’ founder, Frank del Rio, also nurtures a personal passion for art on board. Original work by Picasso, Miró and 19th-century marine painter Thomas Buttersworth feature in his hand- picked collection for ships Marina and Riviera. “I had the same vision and emotional connection with our art acquisitions as I did for the ships,” he says.
Works by Picasso and Miró, as well as Matisse and Chagall, can also be seen on Uniworld’s river ships. More contemporary surprises across the fleet include a whimsical glass horse on SS Catherine, hand-painted murals on the Ganges Voyager II, and colourful mosaics by Jane du Rand. A signed photo of Love Is What You Want by Tracey Emin catches the ambience of the uber-cool ship The A.
For me it is the vast collection of original art on Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2, including works by Gerhard Richter and Damien Hirst and the flowing ceramics of Swedish artist Eva Hild, that epitomises contemporary style at sea. Passengers can sign up for lectures and exhibitions during their cruise, but to enjoy Damien Hirst’s four foilblock butterfly images, The Souls, I, II, III and IV , you would need to book an Owner’s Suite, or a Grand Penthouse Suite. And there are only two of each of these on board…
A showcase for British art
One of the best-known artists featured on Saga’s new ship Spirit of Discovery is glass-maker Peter Layton, founder of the studio London Glassblowing. His sculptures will include the colourful Highgrove series, alongside painter and printmaker Colin Moore’s images of coastal Britain in the library. Linocuts by Liz Somerville, inspired by Dorset walks, will bring the “outside” into cabin corridors and, in a nod to British heritage, traditional craft combines with hi-tech imaging in Feathercast by Emma Pearson.
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