This collection of fine nautical watercolours by a single hand dates from around 1880-1882. The paintings demonstrate a wide-ranging knowledge and interest in British Naval, merchant, fishing and passenger vessels, in the latter part of the 19th-century. The paintings, meticulous in their detail, are a celebration of Britain’s long history as a maritime nation and, specifically, its industrialisation in the Victorian era. They represent a time when Britain led the world in industrial production, and in shipbuilding in particular.
By the 1860s and 1870s the British Navy was by far the most powerful in the world, bigger than the next three (USA, France, Russia) combined. Britain’s shipbuilding prowess was vital in protecting its Empire and far-flung trade.
These paintings depict an array of vessels including tall ships, steamships and paddle-steamers, steam-tugs, naval troopers, gun brigs, White Star Line passenger ships, fishing and pleasure yachts, Thames barges, and old hulks. They date from an interesting time in maritime engineering history, when ships still used a combination of steam and sail, requiring essentially two crews – one to sail the ship and another to man the machinery.
Mainly dating from 1880-1882, the paintings pre-date the “naval scare” of the latter 1880s, as the growth of the navies of Russia, the United States, Italy and, in particular, France, began to pose a challenge to Britain’s supremacy.
Some of the paintings are copies after photographs, such as those by Portsmouth military photographer Symonds & Co, or after illustrations, from the Illustrated London News. Other paintings are termed “original”, presumably drawn from life or memory. Once compiled together in an album but now loose, some have an accompanying inscription on a separate fragment of paper, including the descriptions: “Original”, “Copied from I.L.N.”, “From a photograph” or “From Symonds photograph”.