5 Years Ago, Peter Max Transformed a Cruise Ship Into a Work of Art

Norwegian Breakaway—also known as the “Peter Max cruise ship.” (Image courtesy of Meyer Werft.)

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 the fifth anniversary of Breakaway’s launch and Max’s colossal undertaking, we’ve assembled a brief history and a fascinating collection of images showing how the “Peter Max cruise ship” came to be.

Norwegian Breakaway under construction (Image courtesy of Meyer Werft)


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.

Peter Max hull art, in progress, on Norwegian Breakaway. (Image from Norwegian Cruise Line, via LiveBoat USA.)

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’s signature on the work-in-progress Breakaway. You can see the top of the hull art’s iconic Statue of Liberty head in the lower left corner. (Image from Norwegian Cruise Line, via LiveBoat USA.)


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.”

In progress shot of the Max hull art being applied in the Meyer Werft shipyard. (Image from Norwegian Cruise Line, via LiveBoat USA.)


Artisans prepare to add Peter Max’s iconic New York skyline to Breakaway’s hull. (Image from Norwegian Cruise Line, via LiveBoat USA.)

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.

Five years and thousands of voyages later, Breakaway is still one of the most distinctive and recognizable cruise ships in the world—one of many reasons why its anniversary is such a cause for celebration.

NCL Breakaway—a.k.a. the Peter Max cruise ship—prepares to leave the Meyer Werft shipyard in 2013. (Image courtesy of Meyer Werft)


Anniversary Plans

But art lovers and cruise fans aren’t the only ones thrilled about Breakaway’s five years at sea. Norwegian is pretty proud of their innovative ship as well.

“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,” said Andy Stuart, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line.

“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.”

Norwegian Breakaway—the “Peter Max cruise ship”—leaving the Meyer Werft shipyard in 2013. (Image courtesy of Meyer Werft)

To further commemorate the ship’s anniversary, Norwegian has something special planned for 2018.

“We are thrilled to showcase the colorful work of Peter Max around the world for the first time,” said Stuart. “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.”


Breakaway’s Legacy

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 five 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 Gallery, which has represented Max’s art for more than 40 years. “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.”