6 Years Ago, Peter Max Transformed a Cruise Ship Into a Work of Art
In 2013, artist Peter Max watched a cruise ship pull into a New York City harbor.
It was a big day. The ship—Norwegian Breakaway—was one of the largest cruise ships in the world, and Norwegian Cruise Line had asked Max to do something unprecedented.
They had commissioned Max to paint the hull of their new ship. But this was no ordinary mural. Max’s artwork would cover approximately 40,000 square feet of Breakaway’s hull, making it one of the most massive projects of the artist’s career.
It was also the first time a cruise line had ever asked an internationally famous artist to paint one of their ships. This was uncharted territory, but, as Norwegian Breakaway arrived in New York, Max and everyone else in attendance could tell that this was no ordinary ship.
Breakaway wasn’t just a cruise ship—it was an icon.
In honor of Breakaway’s amazing achievement, we’ve assembled this brief history and a fascinating collection of images showing how the “Peter Max cruise ship” came to be.
Finding the Right Artist for Breakaway
It all started in 2011. Norwegian reached out to Max to see if he might be interested in creating a composition for Breakaway’s hull. Looking back, it’s easy to see why Max’s name was at the top of their list.
Max’s innovative Pop art had made him a household name in the 1960s, appearing everywhere from “The Tonight Show” to the cover of LIFE Magazine. Thanks to his trademark bold imagery and uplifting designs, Max was a perfect fit for Breakaway’s exuberant atmosphere.
If that wasn’t enough, Max had some relevant work experience too—back in 1999, he had painted the fuselage of a 157-ton Boeing 777, so he was used to working “big.”
According to Max, when Norwegian approached him with the Breakaway project, “I really got inspired painting this amazing ship when I heard about its size. It’s one of the biggest ships ever to be parked in New York City. I couldn’t believe it.”
Peter Max Art on a Cruise Ship Scale
Max spent weeks crafting an original design for Breakaway, based on his cosmic aesthetic and his passion for his hometown of New York. When it was ready, he sent it off to Norwegian and waited.
“They loved it,” said Max. “I was ecstatic.”
Almost two years later, on April 25, 2013, renowned German shipbuilder Meyer Werft delivered Breakaway to Norwegian, with Max’s unforgettable artwork adorning the hull. A crew of talented artisans, under Max’s direction, had spent months bringing his colorful designs to life along the ship’s exterior.
The brand-new Breakaway sailed from Rotterdam, Germany to Southampton, England until it was ready for its first transatlantic voyage to its eventual home in New York.
Six years and thousands of voyages later, Breakaway is still one of the most distinctive and recognizable cruise ships in the world.
In 2018, Breakaway celebrated its fifth anniversary and it became clear that art lovers, cruise fans, and Norwegian were all pretty proud of the innovative ship.
Andy Stuart, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line, released a statement that said, “We are very excited to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Norwegian Breakaway as she has been an iconic addition to the New York City skyline since her christening in 2013. We have continued to uphold the long-standing tradition of featuring original artwork on our hulls since Norwegian Dawn in 2002. In 2012, we took it to next level when we worked with our partners at Park West Gallery to commission renowned New York artist, Peter Max, to paint the hull of Norwegian Breakaway.”
To further commemorate the ship’s anniversary, Norwegian has something special planned—they sent Breakaway on a trip around the globe.
“We are thrilled to showcase the colorful work of Peter Max around the world for the first time,” said Stuart in 2018. “Norwegian Breakaway will spend her summer season cruising the Baltics before making her way to the Big Easy where she will sail out of Port New Orleans in the fall.”
A world tour seems like an appropriate honor for a ship like Breakaway. Few could’ve predicted how the “Peter Max cruise ship” would become an industry trendsetter.
Since Breakaway’s launch, Norwegian has continued to showcase the designs of world-class artists on the exteriors of their cruise ships, including the art of David “Lebo” Le Batard on Norwegian Getaway, Guy Harvey on Norwegian Escape, and Wyland on Norwegian Bliss, among others.
But it all started six years ago with Peter Max and Norwegian Breakaway.
“Who else but Peter Max could have made that dream a reality?” said Morris Shapiro, Gallery Director for Park West. “Yes, other artists have painted cruise ships, but Max blazed the trail and set the standard, as he’s done for decades, to further implant his indelible stamp on the history of art. A stamp that will never be erased.”