Britannia’s Palette

Britannia’s Palette: The Arts of Naval Victory

Nicholas Tracy
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 496
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  • Book Info
    Britannia’s Palette
    Book Description:

    In this unprecedented book, Nicholas Tracy reveals the importance of the self-employed artist to the study of a nation at war. He includes lively accounts of serving officers, retired sailors, and academy-trained artists who, often under the threat of debtor's prison, struggled to balance the standards of art with the public desire for heroic, reassuring images. Containing over eighty illustrations, Britannia's Palette explores a varied and exciting collection of paintings that reveal the poignancy of the human experience of war.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7585-1
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations Used in Captions
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. One Artists and the Navy
    (pp. 3-41)

    Life and property were cheap in Italy in 1797. With the army of General Berthier beating on the gates of Rome, the blind Prince Altiere was desperate to liquidate his assets. Prominent in his collection of paintings were two famous history landscapes by Claude Gellée, known as Claude Lorraine. Their sale was illegal because the Pope claimed the right of first refusal, butThe Landing of AeneasandThe Sacrifice of Apollowere acquired nonetheless by a pair of English artists living in Rome, Robert Fagan and Charles Grignion. Gellée was one of the great masters. The French were determined...

  6. Two The Glorious First of June
    (pp. 42-93)

    The first shots in the naval war were fired from the Brest Harbour batteries on 2 January 1793 at a diminutive British brig, HMSChilders, which was “looking into” the harbour to count the number of ships lying to moorings, and to see whether they were getting ready for sea by swaying up their yards and sails. A declaration of war against Britain, the Netherlands, and Spain by the French National Convention followed on 1 February 1793, but the revolution had decimated the French officer corps and seriously undermined naval discipline. For well over a year the Marine de la...

  7. Three St Vincent and Camperdown
    (pp. 94-128)

    Lord Howe’s victory on the Glorious First had enormously cheered the British public, but it did not by any account put an end to the perils that had to be faced. The importance attached to the paintings of de Loutherbourg and Brown by the rich and the beautiful can to some extent be attributed to the continuing need for psychological reassurance. This need can also be discerned in the commission given to John Rigaud to paint the ceiling in the Court Room at Trinity House. The building, to a design by Samuel Wyatt, had been constructed between 1793 and 1796....

  8. Four From the Nile and Copenhagen to the Eve of Trafalgar
    (pp. 129-164)

    The battles of Cape St Vincent and Camperdown had deflected the immediate threat of invasion, but for more than a decade British naval strategy had to continue to deal with the prospect that the French could create new resources – and order new naval movements – which could make possible the passage of a French army across the English Channel. In the spring of 1798, only a few months after the victory over the Dutch fleet, it was discovered that the French were preparing ships and men in all the ports they controlled in the Mediterranean. General Buonaparte, who had carried revolution...

  9. Five Trafalgar
    (pp. 165-192)

    In late 1804 General Buonaparte crowned himself Emperor Napoleon, and in the new year he set in motion a complicated plan for the invasion of England. A series of naval movements were ordered which were intended to bring overwhelming force into the English Channel for long enough that the invasion barges could make the short crossing. As part of this campaign, the Toulon fleet was ordered to collect the Spanish ships in Cadiz and rendezvous in the West Indies with the Rochefort squadron. The Mediterranean fleet under Vice Admiral Nelson set off in pursuit.

    But circumstances were very different from...

  10. Six The World War
    (pp. 193-224)

    After Trafalgar, the nature of the war at sea changed. The damage to the French fleet, and the demoralization of the Spanish all but ended the major fleet engagements. The only exception was the action at San Domingo by a squadron under the command of Sir John Duckworth in February 1806. The Royal Navy’s job became part of a wider effort to prevent Napoleon from regaining the ability to challenge Britain at sea. The reputation of the French army remained the dominant force on the European continent, and enabled Napoleon to coerce client states into building new ships, and putting...

  11. Seven Official Painters
    (pp. 225-257)

    The band of brother naval artists included a number who were directly employed by the navy. William Hodges is perhaps the best known. He had been born in 1744, the son of a blacksmith, learned to draw at William Shipley’s Academy, and studied under Richard Wilson. He worked briefly as a scene painter before sailing on Cook’s 1772 voyage to Tahiti, Hawaii, Nootka Sound, and the Bering Strait. On reaching home in 1775 he was employed by the Admiralty in finishing his pictures for publication, but he returned to India in 1780 to 1783 and grew wealthy from the patronage...

  12. Eight Painters of the Sea
    (pp. 258-267)

    In hisObservations made during a Voyage Round the Worldpublished in 1778 following his return from Cook’s second expedition, the naturalist Johann Reinhold Forster, father of George Forster, wrote about the importance of observation of the colour of the sea:

    Wherever there is an extensive bank or shoal, there the colour of the seawater is changed; but even this is subject to many exceptions; sometimes we find places which are amazingly clear, and the ground, at the depth of several fathoms, may be seen plainly … sometimes the sea assumes a grey hue, and seems turbid, as if it...

  13. Nine Joseph Mallord William Turner
    (pp. 268-308)

    The French watercolour artist Eugène Delacroix wrote in his journal that he remembered meeting J.M.W. Turner just once, in his studio on the Quai Voltaire, where he had lived between January 1829 and October 1835. “He made only a middling impression on me: he had the look of an English farmer, black coat of a rather coarse type, thick shoes – and a cold, hard face.”¹ Robert Leslie, son of the academician Charles Robert Leslie who was one of the American artists working in London and Constable’s biographer, visited Turner’s study frequently as a child and watched Turner paint at the...

  14. Ten Postwar Painters
    (pp. 309-368)

    Turner’s importance in the naval and maritime art of the postwar world was increased by mortality thinning the first rank of the old guard. De Loutherbourg did not paint a naval subject after hisTrafalgarand had died on 11 March 1812, greatly lamented by his friends and leaving an estate to his wife rumoured to amount to £7,000.¹ The “Nelsons” were the last naval pictures by the doyen of history painting, Benjamin West, as they had been his first. When he died in 1820 he left an estate of £100,000. His son Raphael hoped the Greenwich Hospital could be...

  15. Postscript
    (pp. 369-370)

    In December 1864 George Jones wrote to Stanfield telling him of the death of David Roberts, the landscape painter: “Turner, Stanfield, and Roberts,” he wrote “have immortalized themselves in a similar line of art; and I most heartily hope that your health may improve to enable you to continue your successful career.”¹ With Stanfield’s death three years later passed the last of the artists of naval victory who had actually witnessed the events of the naval war against the French Republic and Empire.

    The images of naval warfare left to posterity by de Loutherbourg, Brown, Copley, Pocock, Serres, Turner, Luny,...

  16. Appendix: Printing Techniques
    (pp. 371-374)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 375-426)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 427-450)
  19. Index
    (pp. 451-476)
  20. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)