Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Color Your Own Historic Sailor

Back in 2017, I shared an April Fool's Day post about a coloring book. It was so popular that I finally got around to making it into a real coloring book!

So to celebrate the Glorious First of June, British Tars: 1740-1790 and Napoleonic Tars collaborated and released this coloring book for free as a PDF. Just follow the link here to get your copy:

Included are eight black and white or decolorized original images of sailors stretching from the 1740's through the 1810's, documenting the change in mariners' fashions over that tumultuous period. 

Download and print your copy, break out your preferred coloring instruments, and spend some time with us to Color Your Own Historic Sailor!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Napoleon Bonaparte on 'Bellerophon' in Plymouth Sound, 1815 and 1816

Between July 15 and August 4, 1815, HMS Bellerophon was home to the defeated Napoleon Bonapart in the immediate aftermath of his surrender, as Britain decided what to do with him. The occasion was the cause of numerous works of art, including an oil painting by Charles Lock Eastlake that shows Napoleon in a full-length portrait, and another painting of the crowds who swarmed Plymouth Sound in late July and early August for a glimpse of the defeated emperor.
Napoleon Bonaparte on Board the 'Bellerophon' in Plymouth Sound
Oil on canvas. Charles Lock Eastlake, 1815. Royal Museums Greenwich.

After Bellerophon arrived in Plymouth Sound, Napoleon usually appeared in the afternoon around 6 pm so that the numerous boats filled with sightseers could catch a glimpse of him. It was on one of these occasions that Eastlake was able to make a few rapid sketches from life to create the portrait.
Scene in Plymouth Sound in August 1815
Oil on canvas. John James Chalon, 1816. Royal Museums Greenwich.

The painting includes several other figures: behind Napoleon to the right is Général Comte Bertrand, and to the left is Captain Piontowski. The group is completed by a British marine in profile to the right of Napoleon, and a sailor below looking up at him.

As Royal Museums Greenwich notes,
The painting was enormously popular when it was exhibited at No.236 Piccadilly in 1815, and although based on the eyewitness account of Eastlake when a young man, the end result is heavily contrived. Several certificates were issued to testify to the true resemblance of the painting to Napoleon from which Charles Turner created a well-known mezzotint from another version of the painting. The exhibition and the print both made Eastlake's name and earned him a considerable sum.
Charles Turner's 1816 mezzotint omits the other men in Eastlake's painting in favor of focusing on Napoleon, but Eastlake's detailed reproduction of a sailor in the lower left corner is particularly interesting to this blog.
The sailor wears a thin striped blue and white guernsey frock over a white shirt, the cuffs and collar of which are visible at his neck and wrists. Around his neck he also wears a black handkerchief. He wears white trousers or breeches, which lace up in the back and have a pocket that closes with a wooden button.
Another interesting detail in this painting is the hammock stowed in the upper right corner, which shows some details of construction and tricing, and a sailor's watch number stenciled on it in brown.

Chalon's 1816 painting also includes a few interesting sailors, though the details are hard to see in the reproduction quality I was able to find online.

One sailor in a striped blue and white guernsey frock stands on the bow of a ship, a red handkerchief loosely tied around his neck at the sternum and the ends hanging out. He also wears blue trousers. I couldn't quite make it out, but it looked to me like he is wearing some kind of cap.
Note: This detail is taken from Wikimedia commons, not RMG.
Two men rowing a boat wear striped shirts and white-backed vests. One wears a striped red and white cap, and the other wears a black round hat.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Study of a sailor, c. 1800

Portrait study of a sailor, Robert Williams, 1797-1812.
British Museum.

This fantastic portrait study of a sailor is a great way to compare the stereotypical sailor of a caricature and the idealized sailor of a romantic mezzotint or historical painting to real life. It was done by Philip James de Loutherbourg, the artist who painted "The Battle of the First of June, 1794", studied in the blog earlier in the month.  http://napoleonictars.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-battle-of-first-of-june-1794-1795.html

The provenance note from the British Museum states that "Robert Williams was a Yeoman of the Sheets from Virginia who was promoted to Boatswain of the Osprey sloop on 26 November 1797. (letter from Mrs Sara Cutler, 26 June 2005, in dossier)." The handwritten note at the top of the image (I don't know if it's contemporary to when the image was painted or not) reads "Robt. Williams, boatswains Mate. Venorable once Sailed with Capt. Winthorpe.

Robert Williams certainly looks like a sailor. As in a caricature his hair is short, wavy, and full, with bangs in the front, falling to his shoulders in the back. Short whiskers curl beside his ears, stopping at the lobe. He wears a single-breasted blue jacket (or possibly a coat, since the collar and single-breasted cut are different than many jackets) with one button done up.

Around his neck he wears a voluminous red handkerchief, wrapped in such a way that you can't see the ends so it looks almost like a scarf. The neckline of his sweater ends around his collarbone, showing a hint of blue and white checked shirt underneath. He looks slightly away from the viewer with an ambiguous expression - a wonderful window into what a late 18th or early 19th century sailor actually looked like.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Battle of the First of June, 1794 (1795)

On June 1, 1794 the British and French forces clashed in the Atlantic Ocean about 400 nautical miles west of the island of Ushant, the culmination of a month-long campaign across the Bay of Biscay that included the capture of merchant ships, smaller warships, and two inconclusive fleet actions.
A French fleet under the command of Rear-Admiral Villaret-Joyeuse had sailed from Brest earlier in May to intercept a vital convoy of grain from the United States to France, and the British Channel Fleet under the command of Admiral Lord Howe had in turn sailed to confront the French. Neither side encountered the convoy, which reached Brest in safety, and instead the two fleets made contact on May 28.
Plan of Lord Howe's action off Ushant.
Ink and watercolor sketch by James Gillray, formerly attributed to Philip James de Loutherbourg. 

As Royal Museums Greenwich summarizes, "In the opening engagement Howe disabled the three-decker 'Révolutionnaire', 110 guns. On 29 May he cut the French line to leeward and for the next two days the fleets manoeuvred in fog and out of contact until Howe brought the French to full action and defeat on 1 June approximately 225 nautical miles (416 km) further west. Six French ships of the line were taken and one sunk."
The Battle of the First of June 1794. Oil on canvas.
Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg, London, 1795.
Painter Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg celebrated this victory in his monumental 1795 painting, The Battle of the First of June, 1794 (originally exhibited in 1795 as Earl Howe's Victory over the French Fleet), the subject of today's post. As the curator's note for RMG states,
"Using man's heroic struggle against the sea itself to enhance the conflict of the opposing fleets, the artist's response is in the Romantic tradition, depicting both the dramatic and human nature of the event."
Several events unfold in the painting, whose composition is dominated by the fight between the flagships:

  • the duel between the opposing flagships "Queen Charlotte" on the left (100 guns, commanded by Howe) and "Montagne" on the right (120 guns, commanded by Villaret-Joyeuse)
  • the sinking of the "Vengeur du Peuple", port-broadside view, in the left background
  • the smoke the topsails of other ships
  • the attempts to rescue the crew of the Vengeur crew by other ships and an English boat in the right foreground
  • several more English boats rescuing drowning Frenchmen in the left foreground

The effect of the British fire shows in the confusion aboard the Montagne and the bodies falling from her gun ports. Meanwhile the Queen Charlotte has lost her fore-topmast, which resulted in her dropping astern of the Montagne and never managing to engage with the ship in the position as shown in the painting and thus capture the French flagship. The portrayal of this detail "reportedly led to disapproval of the picture by Lord Howe and more so by his Master of the Fleet, James Bowen.. The latter considered it a slur on the 'Queen Charlotte' on the grounds that the French flagship would not have escaped, had he managed to get alongside her in the way shown."
Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, self portrait. Oil on canvas. 1805-1810. 
De Loutherbourg was a Strasbourg-born painter and member of the French Academy who moved to London in 1771 at the request of actor David Garrick, where he worked as the scenic director at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane until 1785. He was an acclaimed theater designer and continued his success as a painter with a career in England as a Romantic landscape painter. His other famous nautical paintings include The Battle of Camperdown (1799).

Loutherbourg was elected to the Royal Academy in 1781 and exhibited there most years until his death in 1812. The Battle of the First of June is signed and dated 'P J de Loutherbourg RA 1795'.

The artist James Gillray assisted with the sketching and painting of the figures, and both men composed a number of sketches in preparation for the painting. Loutherbourg went to Portsmouth to view the prizes, and a surviving letter from 1808 states that he went on board the 'Sans Pareil' at least once. From the perspective of the student of maritime costume the studies show no more than indistinct figures in caps and jackets.
Leaf from a sketchbook, for the picture of Lord Howe's Victory, by Philip James de Loutherbourg. 1794.
Pen and black ink with grey wash, over graphite. British Museum.

Ships in battle, study for the painting of 'Lord Howe's Victory', by Philip James de Loutherbourg. 1794. 
Pen and black ink with grey wash, over graphite. British Museum.

Other related sketches in the collection of the British Museum by Gillray and Loutherbourg can be viewed here (sketches of ships with signal flags and a French buoy), here (study of the Queen Charlotte's rigging), here (study of a ship's bow), and here (study of  "Le Juste" and "L'Amerique").

Loutherbourg's painting was commissioned for issue as an engraving for £500, to be paired with his 1794 painting "'The Grand Attack on Valenciennes'". The paintings were sold into private hands after they were exhibited, and First of June was ultimately purchased by the Prince of Wales, becoming part of the Royal Collection. Upon the Prince's ascension as George IV in 1820 and removal to St. James's Palace the painting needed a pendant (a painting of a similar size and theme), which led to JMW Turner's only royal commission, his 1824 painting of the Battle of Trafalgar. This controversial work was delivered in 1824. Turner's painting was poorly received by the public for its inaccuracy and lack of a display of proper heroic action, and the King ordered the removal of both works from St James's to the Naval Gallery at Greenwich Hospital in 1829.

Loutherbourg's painting is not a perfectly accurate depiction of the battle it portrays, but unlike Turner's painting - where the shooting of Nelson disappears into a wild riot of canvas and carnage - the image is a decidedly traditional, patriotic, and heroic image, with considerable care taken in the accuracy of the details, such as which flags the ships were flying.

Amidst the grandeur of the battle the foreground is filled with men in smallboats struggling against the sea to help the men in it, demonstrating compassion to the defeated enemy. In the extreme right of the picture is an English ship, in port-bow view, possibly the "Brunswick", with figures French sailors clinging to a mast.
In the middle of the painting two more boats of English sailors are pulling men aboard. The sailors are dressed in a variety of garments, including blue and white trousers, blue checked and white shirts, black felt round hats, blue jackets with open mariner's cuffs, and red waistcoats. In the boat on the right in this detail notice the man to the furthest right in the boat and the man towards the bow in what look like straw hats - a very interesting detail.
On the right an English lieutenant stands in another boat while his crew help the drowning French sailors aboard. The English sailors are largely in their shirtsleeves. A man in the background wears a white shirt and red waistcoat, while a sailor helping a French sailor aboard wears a blue jacket and white trousers. Several others wear white shirts and black handkerchiefs. with waistcoats in white or tan. One man in shirtsleeves reaching overboard to grab a French sailor's hand has short pale hair, clearly curled at the bottom in a bob.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

An Irish Pilot or Steering by Chance (1812)

"An Irish Pilot, or Steering by Chance". London, 1812. Royal Museums Greenwich.
The British Navy was made up of a number of nationalities, including Welsh, Irish, and Scottish, as well as seamen from Scandinavia and America. The diversity of the lower deck provided ample fodder for caricaturists, as in my previous post about Welshmen, and this engraving entitled "Makeing a Compass at Sea or the Use of a Scotch Louse".

This English engraving from 1812 features a captain with a spyglass says, "Now en't you a pretty fellow for a Pilot? to see Land and not know where we are!", to which the pilot replies, "Och my dear Jewel! only shew me the Old head of Kinsale, and I'll tell you where to an Inch!"
The sailor on the left wears black tie shoes and white stockings, with blue striped trousers, the lacing of which can be seen at his back. He wears a short-cut blue jacket on his torso, and the sleeves of his blue and white checked shirt bell out beyond the ends of his cuffs. His brown hair is short and curly.
The Irish pilot is not a member of the ship's crew, but dresses similarly. He wears black tie shoes and white stockings, and his blue trousers are long and wide. His white waistcoat is worn unbuttoned at the top and bottom and his black handkerchief is tied tightly around his neck, the ends streaming out in the breeze. His brown jacket is worn open. On his head he wears an orange tube cap with a white brim, and from under it peeps a mass of curly brown hair.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Jack hove down - With a Grog Blossom Fever, (c 1805)

Jack Hove Down - With a Grog Blossom Fever. Thomas Tegg, London, c. 1805. Royal Museums Greenwich.

Today's image is a very expressive caricature of a sailor who's had too much to drink, arguing with the physician tending to him. This image is from one of Thomas Tegg's early 19th c. series of caricatures.
'hold---I must stop your Grog Jack---it excites those impulses, and concussions of the Thorax, which a company Ternutation by which means You are in a sort of a kind of a Situation---that Your head must be-Shaved- I shall take from you only 20 oz of Blood-then swallow this Draught and Box of Pills, and I shall administer to You a Clyster.

'Stop my Grog-Belay there Doctor---Shiver my timbers but your lingo bothers me-You May batter my Hull as long as you like, but I'll be d--'nd if You ever board me with your Clyster pipe.
Jack lies in his hammock under a patterned green blanket in a blue and white striped shirt, a bottle of grog in one hand. On his head he wears a simple brown tube cap, gathered at the top, from which peeks out wavy brown hair. His blue jacket lies on the deck, with a partially-unbuttoned mariner's cuff visible - two buttons buttoned, two unbuttoned. His shirt is worn with narrow cuffs closed with sleeve buttons, and his broad collar spreads over a red handkerchief tied below his breastbone.

In Jack's sea chest are a number of labeled items, including one named "pig tail"! [edited to add: as a kind reader pointed out, it's a type of tobacco!]

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Use of a Gentleman or Patronage for the Admiralty (1810)

The Use of a Gentleman or Patronage for the Admiralty. Published by Thomas Tegg, London. Undated; c. 1810. The British Museum.

The undiscerning nature of the press gang appeared frequently in 18th century caricatures like The Liberty of the Subject (1779), but in this 19th century update the artist mocks the results of the press laying their hands on members of the social elite.
 The Use of a Gentleman or Patronage for the Admiralty. Royal Museums Greenwich copy.

The scene shows two gentlemen in fashionable civilian clothes pleading their case to an officer. Their exaggerated clothes and posture are contrasted with the round and solid plainness of the sailors, and their useless refinements in contrast to the blunt, practical effectiveness of the clubs and shackles of the press gang.

One fresh recruits pleads his case, that he is indeed a gentleman who is well known in Bond Street. The officer hopes that the man will be able to teach his crew some manners: "Yes, yes! I see you are every inch a Gentleman, and just the person we want, my men have pressed a d---'d numer [sic] of Blackguards, and we want a Gentleman on board to teach them good manners!"  

This image shows a few items new to this blog, including men wearing cutlasses with balrdics! The sailor with his back to the viewer wears black pumps, blue (or white) trousers with hems that drag on the ground. Although he carries a solid stick in his right hand he also wears a cutlass on a baldric, with a black scabbard with a yellow chape and locket. His jacket is blue, with buttons painted yellow in the British Museum copy. Shoulder-length brown hair peeps out from under a black round hat.

His mate on the far right left wears white (or light blue, or white being shown in shadow) trousers, a blue jacket, and a yellow handkerchief with red spots. Brown curly hair peeping out from under a black round hat completes the look.

The central two sailors offer much to look at. The man on the left wears black buckled shoes, dark blue (or light blue, or white being shown in shadow) trousers, again with wide legs and cuffs that drag on the ground. a blue jacket (with small yellow buttons in the British Museum copy), and a black hat with a tightly-curled brim, with straight brown hair peeping out from under it. In the British Museum's copy his waistcoat is indistinguishable from his jacket and his handkerchief is black, while in the Royal Museums Greenwich print his waistcoat and handkerchief are white.

The sailor at the center of the print is colored almost the same in both versions. He stands with his legs wide, wearing small buckled shoes, white stockings, and broadfall trousers with very wide legs and cuffs that drag extremely on the ground. He wears a red waistcoat, white shirt, and black handkerchief. His blue jacket has gold buttons in the British Museum copy - the only difference. He also wears a cutlass on a baldric, though he carries a stout cudgel under one arm. Brown curly shoulder length hair peeps out from a round hat with tightly-curled sides and a piece of string tied around the hatband.