Anatomy of a Boat Deck Portrait


May 12, 2005
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I would like to say that whether or not the painting in its totality is authentic, in its overall mood it certainly is. I think one can be a bit too scientific in evaluating things that really aren't meant for such an analysis. Art is emotional. That is what all art is about - feeling. By consulating a survivor, Matania was able to give his illustration the pathos and sentiment that we are still appreciating today. That, to an artist, IS authenticity. The objective is to portray truth in feeling. Strict material accuracy can inhibit the work of an artist.

And as far as my own suggestion that the model for one of the figures may be based on a well known personage, I still don't see how that affects the integrity or authenticity of the painting. Recognizable characters in a depiction like this add intensity and realism, regardless of whether those characters' presence or activities are represented in order of established fact.
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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I read the article as providing background for how the scene on the boatdeck was 'reconstructed' (the Sphere's description) from an eyewitness account. The image is a popular one, but until Senan's article, many people might not have been aware that it was based on more than Matania's instincts and the popular press. What particularly intrigued me was the claim of specific comments on the part of the witness, e.g. 'No, the man stood here - a foot more to the right.'

Of course, as Senan well knows, eyewitnesses aren't infallible. This is not an objective account, but rather reliant upon the memory of someone who was there, further filtered through the medium of artistic interpretation (however hard Matania strove for accuracy).

I'll have to ask the amateur astronomer in the family about the position of Orion that night! If it was innacurately depicted as being in the wrong position at the wrong time, we don't know whether that was deliberate artistic license or the result of an innacurate observation from the eyewitness (albeit perhaps not quite as dramatic as the 'moonlight' some witnesses thought they saw). It's an interesting point, though, and one perhaps only Matania could answer accurately - perhaps he should have just settled for splashed paint rather than attempt to accurately depict the scene with a survivor to coach him!

The article certainly made me appreciate and look with new eyes upon an image that had become worn through over-familiarity. Now I have to wonder about the shoe on the deck, placed there by the stewards memory. Great article, Senan!
 

Philip Hind

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Jan 21, 2001
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The 'Orion' question is one that anybody can figure out for themselves. Orion is a winter constellation, and he 'peaks' in December-January. If you have clear weather, go outside tonight; you will find him more or less overhead (depending on your latitude) by nine pm or thereabouts. By mid-spring he will be on the horizon soon after dark, and by late spring, early summer he will be travelling with the sun, invisible until August when he will begin to appear again just before dawn.
 
Dec 6, 2000
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Another possibility about 'Orion' in the painting - it just could be a random sample of 'stars' in the painting, and the painter did not intend for them to be Orion in the first place. By pure luck, they happen to look that way.
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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I'll ask Senan when he gets back from overseas if he has more information on the Orion depiction - he's on assignment in the Middle East at the moment, writing for the Irish Independent and interviewing various regional leaders. I have a lovely view of Orion often down here, but then I'm in Sydney, Australia.

On a slightly different note, Sen's reading audience will be delighted to know that he has another book in the works. I don't know if he's releasing any specific information on it at the moment (and if he does so he'll probably give the go ahead to Mike Tennaro to publish it first), but it's on a maritime subject. I saw some of the new images he'll be using when I visited Senan and his family last year and was absolutely enthralled (as was my travelling companion, who generally has no interest in the topic). This is one title to anticipate eagerly!
 
Jan 21, 2001
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Hi Bill:

That was pretty much my take on it, too. Frankly, I don't see anything that looks like Orion. Three things to consider: what the artist wants us to see, what we actually see (or think we see) and what we think it means.

There's a great story about Richard Strauss and his opera "Der Rosenkavalier" that's similar to this. In the last act, one tipsy character introduces a little waltz tune about the wine she is drinking. At the very end of the opera, a different character altogether starts the big closing trio with same four notes as the first four notes of the earlier drinking waltz.

Musicologists since the opera's premiere began publishing all kinds of essays about just what deeper meanings Strauss was intending by this. Finally one of them interviewed Strauss himself (duh) whose answer was to the effect: "I didn't mean anything by it; I just thought it was a nice tune."

Anyway, I get a little skittish about reading more into it than is there, especially when the artist himself isn't available to educate us.
 
Dec 11, 2017
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Mister Molony,thank You for this article! Interesting and amusing as it is,great data to the everliving story of the Titanic. Great job You've done!!! Thank You!
 

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