The Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition is a wonderful survey of contemporary marine painting, which includes depictions of scenes from Britain's naval past. Here, exhibitor Tony Williams shares his passion for painting historic dockyard scenes from Britain's industrial past. 

"In the 1970’s I was a creative director, working on the Camper & Nicholson account" says marine artist, Tony Williams. "I had to dream up campaigns to promote the yachts built at the Gosport and Southampton yards - both the fibreglass and steel hulls. Ever since then I've been increasingly fascinated by shipbuilders, and the trade and commerce that was served by them, going all the way back to London’s merchant adventurers of the sixteenth century."

In The Damp Moon Dock, a big friendly Moon rises, reflecting the quiet of the docks at close of day

The Damp Moon Dock by Tony Williams, Oil, 57 x 72 cm - £1,950

"My interest isn't borne out of nostalgia, but rather admiration for the laboured endeavours of men who built the ships that once powered our economy.  As further research made me realise that this industry has now been almost entirely lost, these men became ghost-like figures in my imagination. It is this idea that I have been painting for several years, alongside subjects of dockside activity. Period vessels hold a greater charm for me than more recent bulk carriers and container ships, and their shape seems somehow more industrial. The yards that were fully employed in the first half of the 20th century provide all the ingredients I look for in a painting, in terms of composition, narrative, and atmosphere.  The presence of the sun, usually cloaked in the fog and smoke of an industrial environment, is the one constant positive connection between these ghosts and us. The rest has gone."

In The Ghost of the Deaf Riveter, ghost-like figures of the ship builders walk away from the harsh yard of steel and noise

The Ghost of the Deaf Riveter by Tony Williams, Oil, 56 x 72 cm - £1,950

"Shipyard workers were frequently injured, and suffered in other ways too. Deafness was a regular condition brought on by riveting and by all the resonant concussion of noise around the yard. The deaf riveter is a familiar figure in my work, leaning in to better hear a conversation."

"Most shipyard workers smoked, and could be seen enjoying their Capstan or Woodbines on the way into or out of work each day. In my painting, wisps of cigarette smoke add to the atmosphere of grey fog and industrial haze."

In The Onlookers, a small and helpless group of onlookers waits for something - high water, or maybe calamity. A sad-faced ship, stuck fast, stares back with no mind to do anything except rock to the whim of the waves.

The Onlookers by Tony Williams, Oil, 57 x 72 cm - £1,950

"Any marine situation can be a compelling image for a painting. In the days before satellite navigation technology, ships would often run agrond during bad weather. Such scenes enable painterly compositions which draw strong connecitons between the sea and the coastline, such as The Onlookers, which is a loose depiction of an incident that occured at the turn of the 20th century."

Unloading the September Shadows by Tony Williams, Oil, 60 x 72 cm - £1,950

These paintings and many more will be on display at Mall Galleries from 11 to 20 October as part of the Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition. To purchase one of these artworks or find out about commissioning a marine artwork, contact or telephone 020 7930 6844. 

Find out more about the Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition 2018