Frederick Waugh Notes on Marine Painting

By Armand Cabrera

Frederick Waugh is America’s greatest marine painter. He was very successful in his long career. I did a biography on him here for this blog in 2008.

 Before he died Waugh had put together a ten chapter book on marine painting. Although the book was never published we have excerpts provided by George Havens at the end of his biography on Waugh written in 1969. These are some of the more generic quotes on painting the sea.

Waugh listed his palette as permalba white, the cadmiums, alizarin, cerulean blue, cobalt blue, ultramarine blue, viridian, raw sienna, burnt sienna and ivory black. He says “My medium for first painting is a little turpentine. Afterwards color as it comes from the tube. If need be, a little oil, but be careful of that.”

• No Doubt the sea is a difficult subject. To paint it convincingly means long, careful observation of its many phases and anatomy, for the sea has anatomy.

• I both paint from the sea and watch it carefully, and the later way of studying I am sure is invaluable.

• Paint as rapidly as possible, I want to stress that the more you can finish as you go the better.

• Simplify, simplify, simplify as much as possible without losing the essential of what is sought

• Look for the big things, art doesn’t begin and end in detail. It rather begins in breadth and ends in more breadth, in what you can do without.

• I have always held that with a few exceptions, no two spaces in a picture should be of the same area or shape.

• I find that my most striking pictures of the sea are those strong in contrasts, the shadows as dark as I can get them and everything in between of the proper value all the way up to the highest light I select to use. Walking back to judge the work at a distance preserves its carrying quality and force; I walk back all day long. The carrying quality is given by the accents one puts on the shadows, halftones and highlights. This means full rich painting in proper values.

• A sense of mystery is often conveyed by certain passages which lack obviousness because left unfinished.

• I have always believed in establishing the sky tone, in general, as soon as possible. In sea painting the rest depends upon it because of the element of reflection.

• The result of direct painting, in skillful hands is the best ever. It goes far ahead of labored work, painting after painting, day after day, with perhaps ones mental attitude on the change. I say, if you can grab the whole in one continuous period of time, unaffected by breakfast, lunch, dinner or the evening’s amusements or other preoccupations. One day you may feel one way, the next day may be different. Take hold of the motif, of the technique of the enthusiasm of a whole unbroken day if possible.

• Observations, concentration then application.

Frederick Judd Waugh American Marine Painter
George R Havens
Univesity of Maine Press 1969

21 thoughts on “Frederick Waugh Notes on Marine Painting

  1. This stuff is pure gold, Armand, Thanks! Waugh's old studio is near us in Hyde Park, NY. When we first moved to this area nearly 30 years ago, a descendant still lived there (alas, no more). There were Waugh's seascapes and studies all over the walls, as well as some of his imaginative work.

    He was a giant, with such a deep understanding of water and light.

  2. James,
    That must have been such a treat! I would have loved to see those studies. I wish someone would publish his book with color plates, what a fitting tribute it would be to him.

  3. Thanks for the excerpts. Waugh is so underrated and unappreciated.I have always wondered that Waugh was able to do what he did without Waugh to look at.In a way he invented surf painting.

  4. Stapleton,

    I totally agree. While Turner, Ivazovsky,WT Richards and Homer were great painters of the sea their goals were different and I always feel removed from the action of the shore. Waugh puts the viewer in the surf and makes you a participant. He really changed the way people practiced marine painting and created the modern form of it that we all follow to this day.

  5. Thanks for the post, awesome work. I love how you and others post all this great info on artists and techniques. Keep it up, please

  6. Armand,
    Thanks for posting this. Waugh has always been a favorite of mine. He knows the sea like no other. I got a chance to see several of his paintings and it was a shock to see that they were painted thin as they have such a look of thickness with his sea foam.
    Ct Cummins

  7. Hello Armand:
    Your Art Blog is wonderful, so much information. How do you find time to paint and do so much research! Thanks a million.
    I live in San Diego and love to paint the sea, with all its challenges. Frederick Waugh is my hero!… Any update news on publication of his work? Is his painting scattered about the county or has someone set a exhibit of his amazing work?

  8. Hi Judy,

    There were 300 Waughs set up as a museum by Edwin A. Ulrich but the museum board has since deaccessded most of them and used the money to support a modern art agenda. It really is a crime. I called there once to see if they had any Waughs on public display but I was told what what was left was hanging in the offices and not for view to the public.

  9. About thirty years ago during one of my frequent visits to The Grand Central Gallery in N.Y.C. I saw the most magnificent sea painting. I returned again and again to stand before this powerful painting. It was a Frederick Waugh. I purchased the biographical book on the life and works of this great seascape painter. One chapter was devoted to Monhegan Island where Waugh painted off the cost of Maine. I visited the island that summer and returned for forty straight summers to paint the sea in oils and watercolors. Waugh did not have a studio in Hyde Park. Mr. Edwin Ulrich had a collection of Waugh paintings that was open to the public. It was called "Wave Crest On The Hudson. I visited many times. Upon his death the collection went to the University at Topica Kansas, oddly enough the one place in the country further from either ocean. Waugh painted off the Island of Sark, Bailey's Island, Maine, Cooperstown, N.Y. Monhegan and mostly in Montclair, N.J. where he lived. He did a few paintings on Cape Cod where he is buried in Provincetown.

  10. Absolutely mind boggling. Anthony Casay was my mentor but I never knew about Frederick Waugh until I saw Don Demers video. Is there anyone who could publish his book that he never finished?

  11. My Great Grandparents purchased an oil by Waugh titled "Marine", listed in the insurance inventory for their house in 1921. My Granmother had the painting above her fire place for as long as I can remember. It is beautiful and lively. I am very thankful for the information you have provided about Waugh.

  12. I am a seascape painter whose main influence has been the work of Homer and Waugh. Some years ago after reading the Havens biography I took it upon myself to call (and you'll have to forgive me because I can't remember exactly where I called) but I believe it was the Montclair Estate where Edwin Ulrich had his collection. I spoke to the gentleman there who was the current caretaker of the property who was kind enough to send me an old art magazine that was devoted to Waugh's work> He also informed me that the Ulrich collection had been donated to Wichita State University and the McKnight Art Center. I called that center and spoke with the director and indeed he said they had a few hundred Waughs in storage. I asked if I were ever able to get out there if I could somehow see a few of them. He said he would not have a problem with that. I have never had the necessary means to take such a trip but perhaps yourself or one of the followers of this blog might entertain the idea. I would suggest making a phone call first as it has been some twenty years since I made that call, Wish you luck.
    gary smith

  13. Wonderful paintings and a very informative article. As a seascape painter I recognise the truth of his words about observation and simplifying.

  14. what a gem of an article to stumble upon today. thank you for sharing.
    The works & words of Waugh resonate throughout the generations, forever an inspiration to us all.

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