Marine art, figureheads of note



Solar Lady Figure head - art study mouth and jaw

Solar Lady Figurehead: art study forehead - possibly this face is too regular.

She had the right shape head, perfect skin and eye colouring to produce the Cleopatra feel we are looking to create.


We have to capture this look photographically then take a mould of Christina's face, which will then be painted to match the make-up of the famous Egyptian Queen. That will be the basis for the Solar Lady's face.


Many famous actors and actresses have to go through this experience when Madame Tussards make a wax model for their famous displays.


An important ship often has an elaborate figure, usually carved from wood - and typically a maiden in all her glory - attached to the bows or prow of the vessel to bring good luck to a crew on their voyages, act as an inspiration to others and lead the way.





Solar Lady - early sketch showing the overhead wing pose - which was developed from watching birds in flight - and a bird head..

Solar Lady - body side view, cut from cardboard for the small scale study.

Angel of the North


Solar Lady -study wings and body in plan view, beginning to realize the Angel of the North concept.




The angel wings as cut from card to test fold the upper wings.



The body in plan view closely resembles an Angel in form.






The Solar Lady has Mermaid tail flukes - a small scale study was completed using card and dough (instead of clay) for the sculpting - seen above - and below. And you may be wondering what happened to it?. It looks like a relic from a mummy movie.




The angels wings are to symbolize the solar panels (solar wings) of the ship, so were formed from flat sheets folded. There is an upper and lower wing, which on the full size sculpture will be welded together in stainless steel, carved from wood or steam folded from wooden laminate. Note the under wing below and left. It is only when folded together that the true beauty of the sculpture is revealed. Not shown here as it was completed in 2011 because the piece was left in an unheated workshop/store with a gap under a door - and a mouse (or mice) ate most of the body over the harsh 2012 winter. We can't begrudge the poor old mouse it's meal, if it was that hungry. The study is being repeated in alloy and reinforced resin-glass - seen below.







In the case of Solar Navigator, the ship is a technological masterpiece and a graceful interface between man and nature, thus a fair maiden suitably blended with representative technology and in this case mythological creatures if thought to be truly representative of the aims of the group of companies and academics currently supporting the project: she is an angel from the Northern hemisphere; the Angel of the South (of England).


A stunning figurehead for the Solar Navigator is being produced to reflect both the traditional and modern aspects of the stated objectives - including the world's first artificially intelligent autonomous navigation, including many  robotic functions, such as automatic energy harvesting optimization.  Our artist accepts both private and corporate art commissions and may be contacted via this website by simply emailing our webmaster. These are pictures of the latest development study from May 2013:-




The wings are re-cut from a tough alloy and folded to shape.

We need two sets of guides, which can be made of card or metal.

The original study is used as a master to remake the figurehead. A useful exercise when it comes to making the ful size art.


The body and tail are cut from one piece of alloy, seen here against the angel wings.



The body and wing shapes are riveted together - on the full size art they will be welded.


The Angel of the South




The alloy is roughened to give a nice key to the resin and matt, which is much harder to work than clay - you have to be lightning fast with a sharp knife to trim roughly while it is soft. Once cured the composite can be carved like a hardwood. We'd like to see the mouse that can chew through this one. Just as when working with clay, more layers will be added. We are trying epoxy putty for this scale art, which study is 280mm from fin to wing tips - the perfect size for the next Solar Navigator tank test model, presently under construction - and also something of a work of art. As far as we know this is the first model of a full size boat, to be fitted with a model figurehead.






Above, is the sculpture with a the head block (rough) carved looking very gargoyle like. The epoxy putty turned out not to be such a good idea. It took too long to cure, and when cured was bitty, so that when carving fine detail, chunks came out and the features were lost. It was decided to recover by removing the putty and using glass and resin to build up a nice solid substrate to carve. On a full size work, wooden blocks are typically bonded together to form a blank, from which to carve. The picture above shows the face in epoxy putty as of 1st June 2013 - that did not allow fine detail carving.




Prometheus like features, Gods from another world



The completed sculpture is given a coat of blue paint as the base for gold (June 6th 2013). The color blue was perfected by the Ancient Egyptians in the 4th Dynasty (2575-2467 BC). The term for it in the Egyptian language is hsbd-iryt. Gold plating or gold-leaf would have been preferred, but cost considerations rule that out for the 1/20th study piece. The full size work should look suitably commanding on the Solar Navigator ship at 5.80 meters, whether in white or gold leaf. At that scale we can carve a likeness to the real life model seen at the head on this page - near impossible at this scale where the wings prevent all round access for chisels. The face on the sculpture at the moment looks like one of the Prometheus aliens. The Solar Lady would make an interesting engineering challenge at 28 meters (94ft), as the Angel of the South counterpart to the Angel of the North.







Sculpture in the Ancient Egyptian god style, Horus. The Solar Lady is a work or art that has been in the making for over 10 years.


The gold paint has accentuated the Ancient Egyptian quality of this maritime guardian angel. The sculpture is reminiscent of Horus the bird headed god. Indeed, when the concept was emerging, a number of birds of prey were drawn. The first study (the one the mice ate) had the head of an eagle, stylized as the head of a woman. Please note that this design is Copyright © 2010 NJK, with all rights reserved. This art-piece may not be reproduced as a model, statue or other artwork in any scale without the prior written permission of the artist. If you wish to feature the photographs, they must be marked as Copyright, with an attribution and a link back to this page. If these requirements are not observed, the use of any of these pictures will be seen as a breach of copyright here asserted, as defined by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.




Finally, the Solar Lady (small scale study) is offered up to the approximate position that she will occupy on the development robot boat. The robot boat is a 1/20th scale model of the full size ship that the 5.1 meter Solar Lady will guide through unsettled seas. Both the model, and full size ship are to be constructed in aluminium alloys. As you can see from the pictures above, the Solar Lady on these pages has a base of aluminium. It has been suggested that a larger Solar Lady sculpture might be carved and cast in solid gold. We will work out how much the gold might cost before committing ourselves.







Although earlier ships had often had some form of bow ornamentation (e.g. the Viking ships of ca. A.D. 800–1100), the general practice of adorning a vessel with a carved figure was introduced with the galleons of the 16th century, as the figurehead as such could not come to be until ships had an actual stem-head structure on which to place it.

The menacing appearance of toothy and bug-eyed figureheads on Viking ships also had the protective function of warding off evil spirits.

As with the stern ornamentation, the purpose of the figurehead was often to indicate the name of the ship in a non-literate society (albeit in a sometimes very convoluted manner); and always, in the case of naval ships, to demonstrate the wealth and might of the owner. At the height of the Baroque period, some ships boasted gigantic figureheads, weighing several tons and sometimes twinned on both sides of the bowsprit.

A large figurehead, being carved from massive wood and perched on the very foremost tip of the hull, adversely affected the sailing qualities of the ship. This, and cost considerations, led to figureheads being made dramatically smaller during the 18th century, and in some cases they were abolished altogether around 1800. After the Napoleonic wars they made something of a comeback, but were then often in the form of a small waist-up bust rather than the oversized full figures previously used. The clipper ships of the 1850s and 1860s customarily had full figureheads, but these were relatively small and light.

The figurehead of HMS Warrior. Other than HMS Rodney, HMS Warrior and her sister ship HMS Black Prince were the last British battleships to carry the feature.

Figureheads as such died out with the military sailing ship. In addition the vogue for ram bows meant that there was no obvious place to mount one on battleships. An exception was HMS Rodney which was the last British battleship to carry a figurehead.

Smaller ships of the royal navy continued to carry them. The last example may well have been the sloop HMS Cadmus launched in 1903. Early steamships did sometimes have gilt scroll-work and coats-of-arms at their bows. This practice lasted up until about World War I. The 1910 German liner SS Imperator originally sported a large bronze figurehead of an eagle (the Imperial German symbol) standing on a globe  (see below). The few extra feet of length added by the figurehead made the Imperator the longest ship in the world at the time of her launch.


It is still common practise for warships to carry ships' badges, large plaques mounted on the superstructure with a unique design relating to the ship's name or role. For example Type 42 Destroyers of the Royal Navy, which are named after British cities, carry badges depicting the coat of arms of their namesake.

On smaller vessels, the billethead might be substituted. This was a smaller, nonfigural carving, most often a curl of foliage.

In Germany, Belgium, and Holland, it was once believed that spirits/faeries called Kaboutermannekes (water fairies) dwelt in the figureheads. The spirit guarded the ship from sickness, rocks, storms, and dangerous winds. If the ship sank, the Kaboutermannekes guided the sailors' souls to the Land of the Dead. 


To sink without a Kaboutermanneke condemned the sailor's soul to haunt the sea forever, so Dutch sailors believed. A similar belief was found in early Scandinavia/Vikings.




  Magnificent conceptually and proportionally - The figurehead from the USS Lancaster


Magnificent conceptually and proportionally - The figureheads from the Imperator (left) & USS Lancaster (right)





The Musée national de la Marine (National Navy Museum) is a maritime museum located in the Palais de Chaillot, Trocadéro, in the XVIe arrondissement of Paris. It has annexes at Brest, Port-Louis, Rochefort (Musée National de la Marine de Rochefort), Toulon and Saint-Tropez. The permanent collection originates in a collection that dates back to Louis XV of France and is truly inspirational for any artist contemplating carving a figurehead. Much of the thought gathering for the Solar Lady has come from a tour of Paris.


In 1748, Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau offered a collection of models of ships and naval installations to Louis XV of France, with the request that the items be displayed at the Louvre and made available to students of the Naval engineers school, which Duhamel headed. The collection was put on display in 1752, in a room of the first floor, next to the Academy of Sciences; the room was called "Salle de Marine" (Navy room), and was used for teaching.

With the French Revolution, the Salle de Marine closed in 1793. The collection was added to models owned by the King personally, to others owned by the Ministry of Navy, and yet others owned by émigrés or executees (notably Philippe Égalité). A short-lived museum was opened between 1801 and 1803 at the Ministry of Navy, then located at Place de la Concorde.

In 1810, Napoléon ordered a gallery of 19 models to be put on display in his offices at Grand Trianon, as to document the types of warships in usage in the French Navy at the time. Jacques-Noël Sané was put in charge of the task. Napoléon also had a model of the frigate Muiron in his bedroom at Château de Malmaison.

In 1827, after the Bourbon Restoration, Charles X ordered a Naval museum to be opened at the Louvre. The task was given to Pierre Zédé. Rooms were also opened or restored in Cherbourg, Brest, Lorient, Rochefort and Toulon.

In 1852, Antoine Léon Morel-Fatio became curator of the Museum. He emphasised the importance of painting, adding to the works of Joseph Vernet. He also made a catalogue of the items, and reorganised the ethnographic items of the collection.

In 1871, admiral François-Edmond Pâris became curator, and had over 400 models of small crafts indigenous to different locations of the French Empire constructed.

From 1905, ethnographic items were transferred to other museums, and in 1920, the administration of the Museum was transferred to the French Navy. In 1937, part of the Palais de Chaillot was devoted to harbouring the museum, which opened on 15 August 1943.

From 1971, the museum became an autonomous body under the Ministry of Defence. In 1975, it was instrumental in the restoration of Port Louis fortress. In 1992, it purchased Éric Tabarly's Pen Duick V, now serving in the French Navy as a sailing school ship.



Young mermaid on the left is not commanding enough, the model on the right has the perfect profile



Britannia Figure head - iconic, curvaceous and proud




The South Australian Maritime Museum has a collection of seventeen ship’s figureheads- carved wooden sculptures which ornamented the bow of a sailing vessel. Fourteen of the figureheads are on display in the museum and three kept in storage. This is the largest collection of ship figureheads in the Southern Hemisphere. The figureheads were sourced and acquired by Vernon Smith, Honorary Curator of the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum over a period of fifty years. Most have excellent provenance and well documented chain of ownership, including photographs of the figureheads displayed in the homes, gardens and hotels Smith retrieved them from.The oldest in the collection is from the Ville de Bordeaux, (1836) while more recent figureheads include the Garthneill (formerly Inverneill) built in 1895 Glasgow, and the Glenpark built 1897 in Glasgow.


The collection has great aesthetic significance; they are beautiful examples of an ancient and highly specialised form of maritime art. Figureheads date back to Phoenician times and were created to protect vessels and their crew. They became a symbol of the ship and were invested with superstitions. They were modelled after generic figures, saints, or relatives of the owner or captain. 

This figurehead collection is of state and national significance. Most of the figureheads are from 19th century sailing ships that carried cargo and passengers between Adelaide and the United Kingdom. They were crucial in provisioning and sustaining the early colony of South Australia and have direct relevance to the Bond Store where they are displayed. 

Many of the figureheads were retrieved from shipwrecks and relate to significant historical events. South Australia’s rugged coastline is littered with shipwrecks, and the figureheads help tell this story of maritime disaster. One of the most famous disasters was the sinking of the Star of Greece off the coast of Port Willunga in July 1888. Wrecked less than 200 metres from the shore, a series of mishaps and lack of preparedness meant that 17 passengers perished in front of onlookers. The Star of Greece figurehead is part of the Museum’s collection and has been used to help tell this story.

This collection is significant in terms of the history of the Port Adelaide Institute and the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum established in the 1870s. The Nautical Museum acquired handicrafts and mementos from sailors who docked in the Port as well as other artefacts relating to South Australia’s maritime history. Honorary Curator Vernon Smith actively searched for these figureheads, locating them in private homes, yards and sheds. He documented this search and because of this, the figureheads are well provenanced with a recorded chain of ownership.














Solar Navigator triple hull SWASH trimaran tank test model


The Solar Navigator - SWASSH (Small Waterplane Area Stabilized Single Hull) test model 2012

The latest Solarnavigator is a robot ship designed to be capable of an autonomous world navigation set for an attempt in 2015 if all goes according to schedule. The platform is also ideal for persistent monitoring 365 days year 24/7 - with data streamed back to your command HQ via satellite.




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