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Untitled [Thames-side shipyard]

Date: early-mid 19th century
Overall: 635 x 1118 x 45 mm
Medium: Oil, canvas, timber
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Painting
Object No: 00050468
Place Manufactured:London
Related Place:Thames,

User Terms

    In the late 18th and early 19th century a school of marine painting developed around the desire of ship owners, captains and sailors to capture the glory of the sea and their pride in their ships. Called pierhead or ship portrait painters these artists, although sometimes quite naive in technique, were known for their accurate and historical rendering of the ships they portrayed. This oil painting depicts a Thames-side shipyard with three vessels on the stocks, one nearly ready to launch.
    SignificanceThis painting captures the accuracy and eye for detail that was the hall mark of the pierhead painter.
    HistoryFor hundreds of years hand in hand with the development of maritime industries, ships and shipbuilding has been the pictorial recording of these maritime endeavours. Painters in oil, cartoonists using pencil and ink and artists using water colour have all attempted to capture scenes of national glory, meritorious victories, the beauty of ships, shipbuilding and the sea and the threat and potential violence of shipwreck, tempests, storms and gales. (Finch, 1983)

    Sometimes these works were expressions of artistic mastery or artistical whimsies created without a maritime audience in mind but many were commissioned by the ship's builders, its owners, captain or crew who were justifiably proud of their accomplishments and wished to capture and record their achievements.
    To fulfill this demand for accurate pictorial representation of ships and the sea there emerged in the late 18th and early 19th century the ship portrait painter sometimes called a port painter or 'pierhead artist'. (Finch, 1983)

    On mainland Europe these artists drew on the skills and techniques developed from the continental tradition of maritime votive painting - which was very popular in Catholic France, Spain, Italy and Portugal from the beginning of the 16th century - when owners, builders and shipping merchants commissioned paintings of their vessel as votive offerings at churches at the beginning or end of a particularly arduous voyage. (Rodriguez, 2005)

    However as maritime commerce, shipping and trade increased at the turn of the 19th century even those maritime countries, such as North America and Britain, that lacked the Catholic tradition of votive painting also began producing their own pierhead artists.

    Ship portraits differed in many ways from the more refined and technically accomplished works of the great marine painters such as Turner. Ship portraits were produced for a very different group of individuals, the owners, captains and sailors of a particular vessel, and whilst the pierhead artists works could be considered technically naïve at times accuracy to detail particularly in regards to the ship, its hull and its rigging, was paramount as the audience knew their subject very well and demanded straightforward, accurate depictions of their vessels and would not take kindly to mistakes.

    This required accuracy for detail probably accounts for why so many accomplished ship portrait painters had a maritime background - John Ward (1798-1849) was the son of sea captain and had been on several whaling voyages to the Arctic, George Chambers (1803-1857) was an ex-Whitby seaman and the Rouxs of Marseilles were trained cartographers.

    Distinctions between the northern and southern schools can also be discerned. More expensive painting techniques such as oil paint on canvas tended to be used by the ship portrait artists from north-western Europe while the artists from southern Europe, where competition was more robust and well established, tended to use watercolour, gouache, pen and ink or a combination of all three techniques in order to keep the costs of the work down, making them more affordable and attractive to visiting sailors and mariners. (Finch, 1983)

    Northern and southern ship portraits also differed in production techniques. Whilst the northern school tended to be produced by individual artists such as Robert Salmon (1775-1844), James Butterworth (1768-1842) and John Ward (1798-1849), the use of watercolour and gouache in southern Europe and later North America encouraged, to a certain degree, the mass production of ship portraits and families of artists, such as the Rouxs of Marseilles (1765-1835) and Jacobsens (1850-1921) of New York rather than individuals were responsible for thousands of portraits over time.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: Untitled [Thames-side shipyard]

    Assigned title: Paintingsdepicting a ship construction and repair

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