Friday, October 28, 2016

The Battle of Trafalgar, JMW Turner, 1824

The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805
JMW Turner, England, 1824.
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London,
Greenwich Hospital Collection
For the previous two installments in this series on Turner and Trafalgar please see Part 1: The Battle of Trafalgar, 1806, and Part 2: Sketches of Sailors from Victory, 1805.

Today we return for a third time to artist JMW Turner and his works relating to the Battle of Trafalgar. Today we look at Turner's 1824 treatment of the subject, his only work by royal command as well as his largest and most controversial painting. 

Turner received the commission from George IV in 1822 and delivered the finished painting in 1824, where it was displayed in the State Rooms at St James’s Palace to form a pair with Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg’s 1795 painting "The Battle of the Glorious First of June, 1794". 

The painting combines a number of incidents from different times in the battle into a work that is more symbolic than historically accurate, which garnered Turner a considerable amount of criticism from the Admiralty men who saw it while it was exhibited. Audiences who expected a more classical treatment of the subject found Turner's sweeping portrayal of the battle, with Nelson's death lost in the chaos of the massive battle and confusion of sails and masts, and naval men sneered at its technical inaccuracies. To quote the National Maritime Museum's online description, " In late 1829 [the King] presented it, with the de Loutherbourg, as his final gifts to the Naval Gallery at Greenwich Hospital. It has been at Greenwich ever since, and remains to some extent a focus of recurring division between ‘sea dogs’ and art historians, admirers of Nelson and of Turner."

Despite the criticism levied against it, Turner's work is a technical masterpiece and stunning example of patriotic symbolism. In addition to the earlier sketches and watercolors he had made in 1805 Turner borrowed a plan of Victory from the Admiralty and had the marine artist J. C. Schetky make further sketches of her in Portsmouth Harbor. In person the painting's sweeping scale and detail draw the viewer in to the massive scale of the battle, leaving the eye to wander over the painting and find more to discover.

Turner's painting combines several events from the battle into one painting, namely:
  • Lord Nelson's signal flown at 11:50 ("England expects that every man will do his duty") flies from Victory.
  • Victory's top-foremast falls (1:00 pm).
  • In the background the Achille is on fire (late afternoon).
  • In the foreground the Redoutable sinks (following day, during a storm).
Critically, Nelson's death is merely alluded to by the crowd around Victory's mainmast, while a dead seaman arches out backwards at what would have been eye level at the original display height in ST James' Palace - reminding the viewer that the cost of the battle is equal for the common sailor as much as the admiral.

Detail of sailors' in the boats - click to enlarge
The sailors in the boats are dressed differently from Turner's sailors in his 1806 painting: while Turner's 1806 sailors wear the familiar checked shirts and jackets sailors had been wearing for decades, these men overwhelmingly sport blue and white striped Guernsey frocks. A number of men sport short (or rolled up?) sleeves, are shirtless, or are wearing their waistcoats open, and almost none wear jackets. Their hats are still a combination of straw and round black felt, though many man are bare-headed. One standing sailor wears striped trousers. 

As this painting was done almost 20 years after the battle and is more allegorical than historic I would caution against using it as a source for sailor's clothing for the Battle of Trafalgar. Nonetheless, it is a brilliant - and striking - piece of art, and showcases Turner as a master of the nautical scene, a subject he revisited again and again throughout his long career.

Monday, October 24, 2016

JMW Turner's Sketches of Sailors and Marines: 1805

JMW Turner; The ‘Victory’: Starboard Side
© Tate Photographic Rights © Tate (2016), CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported),
The original can be viewed at the Tate by clicking here.
Continuing my three-part series on JMW Turner's paintings of the Battle of Trafalgar, today we look at some of Turner's sketches. In 1805 Turner made a special trip to sketch the Victory as she entered the Medway, and subsequently made a large number of detailed studies and watercolor studies onboard the ship, as well as studies of officers, sailors, and marines of Victory and Temeraire. These sketches, now entitled the "Nelson sketchbook" (and available to view online at The Tate), subsequently became the basis for his 1806 painting of The Battle of Trafalgar, which I looked at last week. These sketches from life let us see how Turner interpreted what he was seeing, without the intervening artifice of his studio.

JMW Turner; Sailors and Marines
© Tate Photographic Rights © Tate (2016), CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported),
The original can be viewed at the Tate by clicking here.

These men are identified by the catalog record as two sailors on the left and three marines on the right. Taking the catalog at its word, the two men identified as sailors have long hair tied back into thick queues that end mid-back.

The catalog identifies them as wearing striped waistcoats, though they may also be wearing striped shirts or the machine-knit over-garment called a Guernsey frock. The stripes on the right arm of the top left sailor may be showing the pleating of his sleeve. The sailor in the middle of the drawing is identified as a marine, but dresses almost identically to the sailors in a round hat, waistcoat, and loose trousers.

JMW Turner; Marines, a Seaman and a Separate Sketch of a Man’s Face
© Tate Photographic Rights © Tate (2016), CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported),
The original can be viewed at the Tate by clicking here.
The men in this painting are more clearly marines. The man who is clearly a sailor has a long, thick queue that falls to the small of his back and a round hat with a broad, slightly conical crown and broad brim - perhaps a straw hat. 

After looking at these sketches it's clear that the sailors, their queues, and their hats look remarkably similar to the sailors that appear in Turner's final painting:

Detail from JMW Turner's The Battle of Trafalgar... 
© Tate Photographic Rights © Tate (2016), CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported), 
The original can be at the Tate viewed by clicking here.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Battle of Trafalgar, JMW Turner, 1806

JMW Turner;
The Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory;
© Tate Photographic Rights © Tate (2016), CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported),
The original can be at the Tate viewed by clicking here.
Today Napoleonic Tars celebrates the 211th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar with its first foray into the medium of oil on canvas: J.M.W. Turner's "The Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory". This painting shows the moment of Nelson's fall, the officers and men who rushed to support him, the wounded Lieutenant Pasco being carried from the deck, and the sniper in the French top firing.

The battle - and specific subjects such as the death of Lord Nelson - was a frequent subject of artists in the 19th century, but Turner's 1806 work is one of the earlier large-scale paintings and a good place to begin looking at how artists portrayed the clothing English sailors wore in the battle.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) was a prolific English Romantic landscape painter who is also well known for his nautical scenes such as "The Fighting Temeraire" and "The Slave Ship". Turned painted the Battle of Trafalgar twice, first in 1806 and again in 1824. Both paintings depart from the historical events; the 1806 painting simultaneously combines the flash of the sniper's muzzle in the French top with Nelson having already turned and fallen. Despite this inaccuracy, the Tate's caption of the 1806 painting notes,
Turner made close observation of the ships shown here, but the painting of the battle in which Admiral Nelson died is not simply detailed reportage. Sails and cannon smoke arrest the eye, creating a claustrophobic backdrop, while the action appears to thrust outwards. The viewer is confronted by both the chaos of battle and the intimate tragedy of Nelson’s final moments. A contemporary reviewer termed this a ‘British epic picture...the first picture of the kind that has ever...been exhibited’.
The Tate's catalogue entry also quotes The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner" (Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll. New Haven and London: 1984)
Turner made a special trip to sketch the Victory as she entered the Medway and subsequently made a large number of detailed studies on board the ship in the ‘Nelson’ sketchbook (LXXXIX). There are also two larger studies of the deck of the Victory in the British Museum (CXX-c, and the Vaughan Bequest CXXI-S, repr. exh. cat. R.A. 1974, p. 60 no. 96).  Farington recorded on 3 June 1806 that ‘Turner's I went to and saw His picture of the Battle of Trafalgar. It appeared to me to be a very crude, unfinished performance, the figures miserably bad.’   
Perhaps because he had been so keen to show the picture as soon as possible after the event Turner seems to have felt the need to work on it further before exhibiting it again in 1808. According to the writer, probably John Landseer, of a long review in the Review of Publications of Art for 1808, ‘The picture appears more powerful both in respect of chiaroscuro and colour than when we formerly saw it in Mr. Turner's gallery, and has evidently been since revised and very much improved by the author’. Describing the picture as ‘a British epic picture’ the writer called it ‘the first picture of the kind that has ever, to our knowledge, been exhibited’. ‘Mr. Turner ... has detailed the death of his hero, while he has suggested the whole of a great naval victory, which we believe has never before been successfully accomplished, if it has been before attempted, in a single picture.’ 
Whatever the painting may have looked like originally, its 1808 rework leaves it a striking scene that captures the feel of a critical moment in the battle. Turner's treatment of the moment stands in contrast to the other more intimate historic paintings of fallen heroes that he would have been familiar with, such as West's The Death of General Wolfe (1770) and Copley's The Death of Major Pierson (1783), and in even starker contrast to West's 1806 painting of the death of Lord Nelson and Devis's 1807 treatment of the same subject. All these paintings place the death of their hero - Nelson or otherwise - at the center of the action, whereas Turner's portrayal of the death of Lord Nelson is almost more in line with Bruegel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus: an important moment lost in a larger world.

The ongoing battle consumes much of the frame of the painting, as the visual confusion of smoke, distance, and the towering spars and masts of multiple ships obscures Nelson's fall - so much that the painting was criticized by a contemporary for being about mere "shipping" instead of the "MURDER" of a national hero.

The scale of Turner's painting makes it difficult to distinguish the figures on Victory's deck, and Turner’s particular arrangement of the figures on deck is an imaginary reconstruction. Fortunately for us his exhibit key to the painting survives.
JMW Turner; Key to
'The Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory';
© Tate Photographic Rights © Tate (2016), CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported),
The original can be viewed at the Tate by clicking here.
Two of the men are identified as sailors, namely "1. ‘Marshall’ [John Marshall, Able Seaman or William Marshall, Ordinary Seaman. Poop deck, kneeling to left of the flag in left foreground]" and "3. ‘Marshall Signals Man’ [see 1 above, or another John, Able Seaman. Poop deck, holding flag rope]." Turner's quick sketch also gives us an artist's quick impression of the essence of a sailor, which comes as no surprise: blue jackets and round hats.
Detail from JMW Turner's Key to 
'The Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory'; 
© Tate Photographic Rights © Tate (2016), CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported),
The original can be viewed at the Tate by clicking here.
Detail from JMW Turner's Key to 
'The Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory'; 
© Tate Photographic Rights © Tate (2016), CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported),
The original can be viewed at the Tate by clicking here.
David Blayney Brown, ‘Key to ‘The Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory’ 1806 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, April 2006, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012,, accessed 20 October 2016.

Detail from JMW Turner's The Battle of Trafalgar... 
© Tate Photographic Rights © Tate (2016), CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported), 
The original can be at the Tate viewed by clicking here.
Despite its scale the finished painting shows some fascinating glimpses of the sailors on Victory's deck. In this detail a sailor on the left with his back to the viewer wears a straw hat with a dark ribbon around the base of the crown, a long, thick queue that falls to his shoulder blades, and a checked shirt. Helping him is another man, bare-headed with shirt hair, and also in a checked shirt. A bare-headed kneeling man with short hair identified in Turner's key as an able seaman wears a blue jacket and trousers with black shoes. A man with his hand on a crate wears a straw hat and black jacket with a lighter-colored garment beneath. Other figures in the background that may be sailors wear queues, shirts without waistcoats, and blue jackets.
Detail from JMW Turner's The Battle of Trafalgar... 
© Tate Photographic Rights © Tate (2016), CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported), 
The original can be at the Tate viewed by clicking here.
In this detail a bareheaded sailor on the right bends over; he also wears a checked shirt. A small kneeling figure by the mast with his back to the viewer may be a sailor; he wears a round hat with a queue.

In 1805 Turner filled a sketchbook with drawings from life of Victory and Temeraire, along with studies of officers, sailors, and marines; these drawings became the basis for his painting. Stay tuned for Monday, when I'll be looking at Turner's sketches of sailors from Victory. Also stay tuned for next Friday, when I'll compare and contrast Turner's 1806 painting to his 1824 treatment of the Battle of Trafalgar.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Indignant Tar, 1804

Today's print is a caricature of a sailor standing before a judge, with his pride working against him. The judge says to our sailor, "Now in order to convict these Notorious Offenders, You must Swear that they put you in bodily Fear", to which Ben Block, with typical bravado, replies, "Then d-n my Eyes if I convict them, had there been Three Dozen instead of them Three lubberly Rascals, Ben Block was not the Man to be Frighten'd if they had not popt out of a Creek, and taken me by Surprize, I warrant I'd soon a' made a clear Deck."

"The Indignant Tar"
Giles Grinagain, London, England, 1804
The Lewis Walpole Library.
Our jack stands with his back to us wearing buckled shoes with white metal square buckles, striped trousers that end at the ankle, a hip-length red jacket with sleeve cuffs worn with the two buttons on each cuff unbuttoned, a black handkerchief with the ends thrown over his back, and short, curly brown hair. In his left hand he holds a black low-crowned round hat, the inside of which is visible and shows a white lining.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Flowing Can, 1791

"The Flowing Can"
Robert Sawyer, London, 1791.
The Lewis Walpole Library
Today's image is a mezzotint from 1791 and a great example of sailors making merry ashore. Several sailors are gathered in a tavern for dancing, drinking, and lively conversation, offering an intriguing collection of men in their best shore-going rig.
Trained straps again?
The sailor at the center of the image has on a tall-crowned broad-brimmed hat with an unusual decoration - what looks to be white tape bound around the edge. He also sports a thin black queue bound in tape or ribbon. The mariner's cuffs on his dark jacket are worn unbuttoned with a white shirt peeking out underneath, and a big black neck-handkerchief puffs out on his chest. His striped tight-legged trousers end at the ankle, and his pointed-toe shoes have large buckles and loose straps - possibly another example of trained straps?

Two men in the background who may also be sailors sport black round hats and dark-colored jackets.
On the right side of the print sit two more sailors. The man in the back with a round hat and curly hair is kissing a female inhabitant of the tavern, while the man in front holds up a very large mug. He wears a black round hat with light colored string or tape wrapped around the base and curly hair peeping out underneath, a light colored double breasted waistcoat, a spotted handkerchief, a blue jacket, white trousers, and buckled shoes with large oval buckles. Against one leg rests a stick, and he is smoking a white clay pipe.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Straps in Training, Part 3: A Practical Guide

This is part three of a guest post by Buzz Mooney. Please visit British Tars: 1740-1790 for Part One, and this post for Part Two.

There appear to be two variations on the "sailors' fashion" of shoes: one features one strap hanging loosely over the forward edge of the buckle frame. Illustrations seem to indicate that this was the more common style. The second style has the straps crossed and fed under the forward side of the buckle frame, as seen in "Watson and the Shark."

Here are some images of one of my own shoes, with the straps buckled and trained in various manners:

The buckle attached to the chape strap in the usual fashion:

The shoe buckled in the usual fashion:

The shoe buckled in the usual manner, but with the straps pulled forward:

The buckles installed on the chape strap in the conjectural “quick-release” fashion:

The tongue strap buckled:

The “quick-release” method, with both straps loose:

A possible arrangement of the straps, from the “quick-release”. (Note: this would no longer be a quick release, but may be a way to secure the shoe better, while maintaining the overall style):

“Quick release” with both straps fed under the frame:

Thanks to Mr Mooney for sharing his research with me and British Tars!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Straps in Training, Part 2: 1794-1813

Today's post is a continuation of the October 6th, 2016 article Straps in Training: Wearing Shoes "Sailor Fashion" in the Age of Sail at British Tars: 1740-1790. The author is Buzz Mooney, a longtime reenactor, maritime history enthusiast, and friend.

Straps in Training:
Wearing Shoes "Sailor Fashion" in the Age of Sail
Part II: 1794-1813

In Bill Sullivan’s recent article on, I found this intriguing little gem: “Sailors wore their shoes 'sailor fashion,' swaggering around with one buckle strap flapping out of the buckle and tugged to the front; others in the backcountry and German-speaking areas turned both buckle straps outward to flap up and down like mule ears, tying them with a string—kind of like wearing your cap backwards or loose-lacing your Timberland work boots.”

I decided to see what I could find, to illustrate or verify the notion of shoes worn “sailor fashion”. Were there period sources that mentioned this, and was it shown in period illustrations? When did sailors wear their shoes in this manner, if at all? The article didn’t cite any sources, so I had to explore this notion on my own... Tom Apple told me that the cordwainer at Colonial Williamsburg had told him that this practice was called “training the strap”, and both he and Steve Rayner directed me to Bennett Cuthbertson’s A System for the Complete Interior Management and Oeconomy of a Battalion of Infantry... (London, 1768:135)
"XVI. It should be particularly observed, that the Men do not wear their Shoes, on the same feet, but that they change them day about, to prevent their running crooked; nor should they be permitted to have their Shoe straps pulled toward the toe, like Sailors: but are to be accustomed to tuck the ends of them, under the rim of the buckle.”
So here was a direct, period reference to the style, with a description that told me what to look for. The next step was to see what illustrations I could find, to show this “in action”, and, I hoped, to give me an idea whether this was a brief fad, or a long-running fashion. My particular hope was to show whether it ran throughout the periods cited in Dalton and Bartgis’s blogs, which cover the range of periods I re-enact, as a sailor. I was pleased to find that artists of the period often showed some variation of “training.”

The Cuthbertson book told me the style was commonly recognized as a sailors’ fashion in 1768, which suggests that it had been common for some years, so that at least gave me a fairly early confirmation, and the images I found showed that the style continued into the 19th century.

For the entirety of Part 1, including a definition of the parts of a buckle and images of the fashion in art from 1778-1790, please continue reading the article at British Tars: Straps in Training: Wearing Shoes "Sailor Fashion" in the Age of Sail.

Part II: 1794-1813

We now turn to “British Plenty”, by Henry Singleton (1794).
"British Plenty"
Henry Singleton, London, 1794.
Original at Royal Museums Greenwich

This shows a strap on the left shoe, hanging over the frame.

Next is a satirical print from 1799.
“The Spanish Dollars makes the English Merry”
Viera Portuense, London, 1799.
In the collection of the British Museum.

This etching shows the right shoe with a strap over the frame,
but the left with it under.

1806’s Jack and Poll at Portsmouth, by Argus (Charles Williams) shows the fashion continuing into the 19th century, almost 40 years after the date of Cuthbertson’s comment. This brings us not only into the era of “Nelson’s Navy” but past it, as Jack and his faithful Poll mourn the death of His Lordship.
"Jack and Poll at Portsmouth"
Charles Williams, London, 1806.
Royal Museums Greenwich

Though it this is harder to make out, it appears all four of Jack’s straps
are trained forward, with one on the right shoe passing over the frame,
and the rest passing under.

In this caricature from 1809 we see the shoes of three sailors, but only one trained strap is shown with any clarity.
"Saturday Night at Sea, or Nautical Notions of Honor"
S.W. Fores, London: 1809.
Royal Museum Greenwich.

The strap on the right shoe of the man in the red jacket is hanging out over the frame.

[I noticed a trained strap in the 1813 caricature "The Yankee Torpedo", which is the latest date for a print that I've yet found featuring the trained strap fashion. - B. Bartgis]
"The Yankee torpedo" Thomas Tegg, London, November 1, 1813.
In the collection of the Library of Congress.
Both shoes show the trained strap.

There appear to be two variations on the style: one features one strap hanging loosely over the forward edge of the buckle frame, and the other has the straps crossed and fed under the forward side of the buckle frame, as seen in "Watson and the Shark" (1778). The one-strap-forward style is more common in illustrations.

In conclusion, this fashion seems to have existed from at least the mid-1760s to the 1810s. Further research may reveal if the trained strap fashion went earlier than 1768, or if it continued as long as buckle shoes were still worn.

Stay tuned next week for some photographs of Mr Mooney's shoes with the straps buckled and trained in various manners to demonstrate what the fashion looks in real life!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Sweet Poll of Plymouth, 1790 (British Tars)

Today's post is shared with permission from British Tars: 1740-1790.
"Sweet Poll of Plymouth," Thomas Macklin,
George Shepheard, Henry William Bunbury.
1790, National Maritime Museum.
Sweet Poll is a wicked looking prostitute drawing the attention of two tarpawlins and a creepy looking marine. The colorist of this print has done a fairly good job with the shading and careful application of color, except on the marine whose cartridge box blends into his small clothes, and cuffs fail to match the lapels.

This print is at the very tail end of [my] period of examination, and so the sailors look markedly different from those of earlier decades. Notably, both wear straw hats. I know of only one other depiction of sailors from our period of study that clearly and definitely shows a straw hat, and even that source I had to question. This is the first positive and definitive depiction of straw hats being worn by sailors in my period of study, and it comes at the very last year of that period.
Our first jack wears a wide brimmed straw hat, and has his hair bound in a queue (another change from previous decades in which short, bob-style hair was the most common). A blue jacket ending just below the waist and with folded back cuffs rests over a double breasted white jacket with cloth covered buttons. His trousers are white and end at the ankle, showing off pointed toe shoes with rectangular buckles.
His mate wears a straw hat with a shorter brim, and short hair. It appears his hair is without a queue, but not definitely so. A short lack neckerchief hangs over his waistcoat with its horizontal red stripes and cloth covered buttons. The blue jacket is single breasted with cloth covered buttons and an odd folded back cuff that also appears to be a double buttoned mariner's cuff. His trousers are slightly longer than his mates, but still show the same shoes and buckles.