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Art on Board: What Ships Hang When They Want to Look Good

Cruise lines spend millions per ship on art, commissioning works and buying pieces from emerging artists and masters alike. What's it all add up to?

Cruise lines spend millions per ship on art, commissioning works and buying pieces from emerging artists and contemporary masters alike, to add beauty, elegance, intrigue, and whimsy to the cruise experience. From ultra-modern pieces made of wire and steel to traditional oil paintings, and everything in between, art of all types is found aboard cruise ships. Holland America (, Cunard (, Celebrity (, and Royal Caribbean ( have especially well-thought-out collections that include mainstream art as well as signature pieces. "Ships really are mini-museums," says Carnival Cruise Line's design guru Joseph Farcus, adding that the fleet's art collection ranges from ancient Egyptian pieces to modern art.

For example, aboard Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas, there are lovely scale models of racing yachts by David Fawcett in the Windjammer buffet restaurant, while Brilliance of the Seas has a tile mosaic peacock in the spa. The Liberty of the Seas' $8 million collection includes life-like photographs of martinis by Sid Hoeltzell in the Viking Crown lounge and aboard the new Independence of the Seas, Devorah Sperber's 12- by 16-foot surrealist installation is made with 17,760 spools of thread -- and it certainly turns heads.

Here are more head-turning works of art on the high seas:

Ship portraits
Maritime artist and former sea captain Stephen J. Card has produced many striking paintings of classic HAL ships, old and new, and they adorn the stairways on every ship in fleet. The highly detailed, photograph-like oil paintings are a wonderfully nostalgic tribute to the world's great liners, from HAL's first Rotterdam of 1873 to the line's latest builds.

Glass sculptures
Dramatic hand-blown glass sculptures are the forte of American artists Peter Zsiba and Maura Smolover. They've created large-scale pieces for the Boleros lounges aboard five Royal Caribbean ships, including Freedom of the Seas, where deep red and orange glass petals and buds allude to a giant Georgia O'Keefe flower.

Black and white photos
Aboard Celebrity's Mercury is a collection of fun black and white photographs (gelatin silver photo prints to be exact) of children by Irish-born artist Dorothy Cross. Called "Close Your Eyes and Open Your Mouth and See What God Will Give You," the 50 photos feature kids doing just that.

Liner tapestry
Gracing the QM2's 3-deck-high Britannia restaurant is a stunning tapestry of a cruise liner departing New York City. Created by Dutch artist Barbara Broekman, the hand-woven, 100% wool tapestry measures about 14 by 21 feet and is a feast for the eyes both when viewed at a distance or up close.

Totem pole
The 12 foot-high cedar totem pole carved for Radiance of the Seas by renowned native-American artist Nathan Jackson, stands guard like a sentry at the Mast Bar on Deck 12, just forward of the main pool area. The spectacular piece was hewn from a towering cedar tree from the wilds of southeast Alaska, and you'll see nothing else like it at sea.

Impressionist-style paintings
Alaska-based artist Devita Stipek Writer loves color and her impressionist-style impasto acrylic paintings for Carnival are awash in bright hues and broad, textured brush strokes. Carnival designer Joe Farcus discovered Writer's work in a small gallery in Juneau and the rest is history. Her landscape paintings appear in the atria, stair landings and in cabins aboard seven Carnival ships.

Marble tables
The inlaid marble tables in the libraries and card rooms of many of the HAL ships, including the Westerdam, are stunning masterpieces aflame with brilliantly shapely shards of Italian marble designed by Gilbert Lebigre and Corinne Roger.

Hand prints
Simply called "Untitled, 1992," a geometric arrangement of clay handprints by artist Richard Long is aboard Celebrity Cruise's Mercury. Profound in their child-like simplicity, Long mixes China-clay from the south-west England (near where he grew up) with water and makes patterns with his hands, allowing the mud to splatter and drip.

Impressionist classic
Safely protected behind bullet-proof glass and flanked by security cameras, the NCL fleet harbors a handful of bona fide masterpieces worth big bucks. Vincent Van Gogh himself painted "A Park in Spring" in 1887, and the pretty impressionist landscape in happy floral hues hangs behind the purser's desk aboard the Norwegian Pearl. Along with a Renoir, Monet and Henri Matisse, this painting is on loan from the private collection of NCL's chairman Tan Sri K. T. Lim.

Tricky paintings

In the Amsterdam's Pinnacle Grill alternative restaurant, look very closely at the series of landscape paintings by artist Bas Sebus -- the surrealist works all have a subtle joke hidden somewhere on the canvas. In the spirit of "Where's Waldo," see if you can spot the RCA "his master's voice" dog on the Italian rooftop and Marilyn Monroe by the lily pond.

Animation cells
Good art doesn't have to be edgy or deep. Take the framed animation cells and production sketches of beloved Disney characters, from Goofy to Donald, lining the stairways aboard the Disney Wonder and Magic. Many are originals from movies and cartoons produced in the 1930s and 40s and they're a lovely tribute to a more innocent era of entertainment.