The great painters descended to the depths of the soul for inspiration. Belgian-born painter Jamy Verheylewegen heads in the same general direction but goes much deeper—to about 30 feet, usually, beneath the Mediterranean. Called the world's foremost underwater painter by many of those who follow the school, Jamy, 48, has completed more than 370 portraits of the seafloor—shimmering impressions of coral towers, flora jungles and rock formations. But few fish. "They refuse to pose," grumbles Jamy.

A former draftsman and installer of prefab kitchens, Jamy felt the first wave of creativity in 1983. "He'd been diving for 25 years," says his wife, Hilde, 45, "when he suddenly had a vision that he should be painting underwater." Getting right down to work, Jamy strapped 30 pounds of lead to his wet suit—to keep himself anchored to his atelier—and began using a weighted easel, synthetic canvas and, natch, oil-based paint. Since colors are difficult to tell apart in ocean water, Jamy keeps his spectrum straight by giving each paint jar a numeral and memorizing the code. In other words, he paints by numbers. "It obviously requires much more craftsmanship than painting out of water," says Hilde. "I think he's the master of the genre."

Indisputably. But that doesn't mean he's successful. Jamy sells enough paintings (priced from $85 to $1,500) to keep his head above water, but he doesn't exactly have collectors flocking to his home in Hyères, France. Still, he believes his stock will rise in the future, and he has no intention of abandoning his métier. "The sea is our womb," says Jamy, "and I am anxious to share it." Thanks to him, it's a womb with a view.