Painting Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea

Leo Augustine Donaghy

Picture 1

My lifelong fascination with the sea, large fish and in particular sharks began in early childhood. On a fishing trip with my father off the Irish coast of Donegal, we were confronted by an enormous basking shark. Harmless, but to a small boy both frightening and exciting.

When I first read Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea, I was taken straight back to that day. I was captivated by the dual themes of perseverance and endurance and excited by Santiago’s encounters, first with the giant marlin and then the sharks as they attacked his catch.

The book inspired me to create a series of paintings – three large canvasses and several smaller ones. My work responds to the human emotions of the main character. The style of painting is fluid to capture the essence of the ocean and the abstract elements speak of the fluidity of the human soul. The colours I have used express the vast empty space of nothingness when far out to sea.

Painting by Leo Augustine Donaghy

Picture 2

I have recently re-read the book and also watched the 1958 film of the same title starring Spencer Tracy. Unlike many modern adaptations of novels, this film consistently stays true to Hemingway’s original text. Despite its age, the effects are impressive and some of the marlin film footage was of the world’s record catch by Alfred C. Glassell Jr. (available from Amazon Films).

Picture 1 (4ft x 3ft - acrylic on canvas)

Both Santiago and the marlin are equally intent on winning the battle.

‘I’m being towed by the fish and I'm the towing bitt.’

One is at the mercy of the other. Santiago is resigned to his predicament and rests his aching back against the skiff. He is in a meditative state and compares the fish’s thoughts to his own.

Picture 2 (4ft x 3ft - acrylic on canvas)

A tender moment between Santiago and a small bird that lands on the skiff.

“How old are you?” the old man asked the bird. “Is this your first trip?” . . .  “Take a good rest small bird” he said, “Then go in and take your chance like any man or bird or fish.”

Picture 3

Picture 3 (15ins x 11ins - Indian inks on watercolour paper)

“Aye,” the old man said. “Galanos. Come on galanos.” They came…

Santiago cannot bear to look at the mutilated fish and knows he is defeated. He is drained of blood metaphorically, and the great marlin’s blood clouds the surrounding waters.


Leo Augustine Donaghy ( was born in Dublin in 1955. He obtained a Ba (Hons) degree at John Moores University Liverpool in 1989.  He presently works from his studio in Shropshire, England, painting in many media and designing for clients. 



Leo Augustine Donaghy 09/16/2023

How to cite this blog in MLA 8: 

Author's Last Name, Author's First Name. "Title of Post."  THR Blog, The Hemingway Foundation and Society, Date blog was published, Link to blog entry (omit http:// or https://).