Happy New Year to all! As the earth completes another orbit around the sun, I've been looking at artworks exploring new beginnings – one of the most potent symbols of which is the sunrise. These paintings depict the hope and possibility of a new day as it rises all over the world, dawning over deserts, mountains, cities, and the sea.

Sunrise over Spitzbergen

Sunrise over Spitzbergen 1981

Keith Grant (b.1930)

University of Birmingham

Sunrise over Naples

Sunrise over Naples 1862

Thomas Dessoulavy (1800–1869)


Sunrises are captured in many corners of the globe on Art UK. There is the striking Sunrise over Spitzbergen and Sunrise over Naples...

Acropolis at Sunrise

Acropolis at Sunrise c.1910

Herbert Edwin Pelham Hughes-Stanton (1870–1937)

Ramsgate Library

Atlantic Dawn

Atlantic Dawn

R. J. Brian Coulter (b.1957)

Northern Ireland Civil Service

There is the Acropolis at Sunrise and Atlantic Dawn...

Dawn Arrival, Purnululu

Dawn Arrival, Purnululu 1999

Robert Maclaurin (b.1961)

The Fleming Collection

Moving to the Australian outback, Dawn Arrival, Purnululu shows giant bell-shaped rock mounds which are 350 million years old, at dawn.

Sunrise near Scarborough

Sunrise near Scarborough c.1943

George Scott Ingles (1874–1952)

Scottish Borders Council

Sunrise over Wigan

Sunrise over Wigan

Theodore Major (1908–1999)

Wigan Arts and Heritage Service

Sunrise over West Sussex

Sunrise over West Sussex 1995

Christopher Aggs (b.1951)

Worthing Hospital

As for UK locations, these range from the north of England, in Sunrise near Scarborough and the stunning Sunrise over Wigan, to the south in Sunrise over West Sussex.

Sunrise at Sea

Sunrise at Sea 1861–1866

Henry Dawson (1811–1878)

Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

Boat at Sunrise

Boat at Sunrise

J. A. Stewart

East Lothian Council

A Clipper at Dawn

A Clipper at Dawn 1996

Fred A. Dundee

Newtownabbey Borough Council

Winter Sunrise over Sea

Winter Sunrise over Sea 1970s

unknown artist

Warwick Town Council

The natural world at sunrise has proven a treasure trove for artists, many of whom have caught the first rays of light as they fall upon the sea, as in the majestic Sunrise at Sea by Henry Dawson, Boat at Sunrise by J. A. Stewart, the boldly coloured A Clipper at Dawn, and the sepia tones of Winter Sunrise over Sea by an unknown artist.

A Mediterranean Inlet at Sunrise

A Mediterranean Inlet at Sunrise

Francesco Fidanza (1747–1819) (style of)

Stockport Heritage Services

Sunrise on Loch Tay

Sunrise on Loch Tay

Joseph Wrightson MacIntyre (1842–1897)

Stirling Council

Sunrise in Cowie Harbour, Aberdeenshire

Sunrise in Cowie Harbour, Aberdeenshire

Agnes Margaret Cowieson (1855–1940)

Maggie's Dundee

Sunrise as it is reflected in water from inlets to lochs, from rivers to harbours, has long fascinating painters. A selection includes A Mediterranean Inlet at Sunrise and Sunrise on Loch Tay. I also admire the artwork of Sunrise in Cowie Harbour, Aberdeenshire, which captures the busyness of dawn, showing fishermen already at work, by an artist who specialised in seascapes, as well as landscapes and animals.

Pintail Pursuit at Sunrise

Pintail Pursuit at Sunrise 1987

Peter Markham Scott (1909–1989)

Nature in Art

One of the most powerful portrayals of the natural world at dawn is Pintail Pursuit at Sunrise by the wildlife artist Peter Markham Scott, who was a pioneering conservationist and ornithologist. He was the first president of Nature in Art, the world's first museum dedicated to fine, decorative and applied art inspired by nature.

Dawn Sentry

Dawn Sentry 1955

M. J. S. MacKenzie

Royal Welch Fusiliers Regimental Museum


Dawn 1990s

Anne Toms (b.1944)

Healing Arts, Isle of Wight NHS Trust

Birds flutter through other sunrise paintings, including Dawn Sentry, which shows a large hornbill in flight in Malaya, watched over by a sentry, and the beautiful Dawn by Anne Toms, perhaps one of the most peaceful of all the paintings I have seen.

Sunrise over the Mountains of Moab

Sunrise over the Mountains of Moab 1899

Caroline Emily Gray Hill (1843–1924)

Walker Art Gallery

Desert Sunrise

Desert Sunrise

Kay Robinson (b.1945)

Warrington Museum & Art Gallery

Other striking depictions of landscapes at dawn include the stunning Sunrise Over the Mountains of Moab and the daringly bold abstract Desert Sunrise.


Dawn 1972

Robert Callender (1932–2011)

Museums & Galleries Edinburgh – City of Edinburgh Council

There are also artists who have experimented with juxtaposing the beauty of the natural world at dawn and the chaos of a human being awaking, as in the interesting work Dawn by Robert Callender, in which we see an unmade bed in what appears to be a caravan in the midst of nature.

Dragon Sunrise

Dragon Sunrise

Maggi Hambling (b.1945)

Healing Arts, Isle of Wight NHS Trust

First Light

First Light 1985

Tricia Gillman (b.1951)

University of Warwick

As well as realist images, there are some compelling abstracts including Dragon Sunrise by Maggi Hambling, showing bright arms of sunlight, almost octopus-like, reaching out. First Light is by Tricia Gillman, whose work concentrates on colour and shows the influence of French artists, including Matisse.

Winter Sunrise

Winter Sunrise 1999

Mary Lord (b.1931)

Leeds Museums and Galleries



Hurjit Singh Sajjan Singh (b.1959)

Heriot-Watt University

Quiet Dawn

Quiet Dawn 1973

Diana Constance (1934–2011)

London Borough of Camden

Ochre Sunrise

Ochre Sunrise

George Duffy

NHS Fife

Abstracts also well emphasise the wide-ranging palette of the dawn, in paintings showing off its reds and golds, while Winter Sunrise makes the most of the colour blue. The abstract painting Sunrise makes the most of the colour scarlet in all its splendour, as does Quiet Dawn by Diana Constance. Then there is Ochre Sunrise, which captures the calming dawn colour of yellow.



Stewart Marshall Lees (1926–2008)

The University of Nottingham


Sunrise 2007

Eleanor Glover

University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust

Sunrise mixes yellow, blue and green in curious ways, and meanwhile, there is a pastiche of cheerful images in Sunrise by Eleanor Glover.

Since the dawn of time have humans been awed by the splendour of a sunrise. From ancient artworks to the most modern, from realist to abstract, we see the multitude of ways in which dawn has been depicted throughout the ages, and the emotional resonances it can have, wherever in the world the artist might be.



Niels H. Christiansen (1850–1922)

Warwickshire Museum Service


Dawn 1903

Joseph Farquharson (1846–1935)

Walker Art Gallery

Two paintings which most made me catch my breath are Dawn by Niels H. Christiansen for its gorgeous capturing of colour in the landscape of mountain and sea. Also Dawn by Joseph Farquharson, with its very different colour palette of sheer white light, green and gold, and a bird in flight, head tilted towards the rising sun, its outstretched wings reflected in the sea.

All in all, these depictions of dawn in all its multifaceted glory send a shiver down the spine, and a surge of hope in the heart for the coming year.

Anita Sethi, journalist, writer and critic