The Place of Piers in Art and Our Lives

I want to look at birds in art but realised that many of them sit on the rails of piers. So I thought we should first discuss the place of piers not only in art but in our lives. I'm sure most of us have walked on a pier, had contemplative moments on a pier and watched a bird doing the same. Piers (and their big brothers the *wharves) are fabulously interesting structures and a joy to a painter or photographer especially underneath where the piles meet the water. One of the subscribers, Chris from New York, takes narrative photos so I will use a couple of his wonderful images from New York City to set the tone of this blog.

Significantly piers are symbols - they are the base plates from which our ancestors were scattered around the world and the home plates to the doorways of their new lives. Piers are the Omega and the Alpha of our narratives.
One of my favourite maritime artists is John Stobart, born in England in 1922, migrated to Canada in 1957 but now lives in Florida, USA. He has seen many wharves and piers. One of my favourite maritime paintings is Stobart's Sydney: The Blackwall Passenger Ship “Parramatta” Alongside Circular Quay in 1872 (Sydney).
But let us go back a little in time to a John Constable painting of Chain Pier Brighton (UK) painted about 1826. You can see the pier in the background like a sentinel for the people working along the shoreline. The Hero Image is also a Constable painting (cropped) titled Yarmouth Jetty (after 1823).
And here is a copy of an old postcard featuring a view of the Blackpool South Pier in what looks like the late 1800s. Essential strolling on a pleasant afternoon.
Most piers are working piers. I found this delightful painting of Pier No. 5 (1950) by Jacob Glushakow who painted many scenes of the working harbour in Balitmore.
Glushakow liked sketching decaying piers as most artists would agree. Here is his Fells Point Dock (Baltimore).
As mentioned earlier in the Blog, piers have played an enormous role in all our lives as our families and ourselves have travelled from one end of the world to the other before planes became so convenient. I have searched for the best painting to represent immigration and I have found it created in 1890 by Edvard Petersen of the Steamship SS Thingvalla.
Illustrated are the Danish emigrants at Larsen's Plads leaving for New York but it could be any of our families saying goodbye to their loved ones. Interestingly the steamship has one funnel and three masts.

To complete today's blog is a postcard of the Gravesend Town Pier with the ferry in the background. One of my great grandfathers came from Gravesend so I find this image very nostalgic.
Gravesend is an ancient town in northwest Kent, UK, only 35 km from Central London on the south bank of the Thames Estuary. Gravesend has very strong links to life on the Thames and English maritime history. Sadly my ancestors were not sailors or wharfies but owned one of the many pubs in Gravesend. And so they were witnesses to life on the pier.

I've become a little obsessed with piers so tomorrow we will look at images of them from different perspectives. I’ve also been in contact with a gentleman from Edinburgh who has wonderful images of maritime etchings which he is happy for you to see. For those of you who are artists get your pencils and brushes ready.

And to J, when you go for that swim this week, take particular notice of the structure of the pier. Make a sketch!!

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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