The Battle of Barfleur, 19 May 1692

Early in 1692, James II was at Cherbourg, preparing to re-invade England with French help. On 17 May the French fleet sailed from Brest and were attacked by a superior Anglo-Dutch force under Admiral Russell, off Cape Barfleur. The French escaped but a few days later the allies burnt three of their ships including their flagship the 'Soleil Royal', 104 guns, in Cherbourg Bay. On 23-24 May, James II saw 12 more French ships and most of his transports burnt in the Bay of La Hogue. This ended all real hope of regaining his throne. The French commander off Barfleur was the Comte de Tourville. With a force half the size of the Anglo-Dutch fleet and hampered by fog, put up a brave fight.

The focal point in the painting is de Tourville's flagship 'Soleil Royal', shown in the middle distance to the left of centre and in starboard-quarter view, in close action with the allied fleet flagship 'Britannia', on her starboard side. She is running before the wind, as are the fleets in general. This interpretation ignores the presence of fog and falsely indicates that the visibility is good. Astern of the 'Soleil Royal', firing her chase guns, is the flagship of Vice-Admiral-General van Callenburgh, and close on her port side a Dutch ship is also in chase. Beyond them and behind are other Dutch ships with, in the middle, an English smack-rigged royal yacht beating across them on the starboard tack. In the left foreground is a sinking French ship and to the right a number of boats and barges. A burnt-out wreck smoulders on the extreme right foreground.

The artist was initially a calligrapher in his native Germany before moving to Amsterdam. There, he was inspired by the grisaille drawings of van de Velde the Elder. Later, he was introduced to marine painting in oils in the studios of van Everdingen and Dubbels. He was a contemporary of van de Velde the Younger and shared with him a concern for painting ships with accuracy and understanding.

Object Details

ID: BHC0331
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - Nelson, Navy, Nation Gallery
Creator: Backhuysen, Ludolf
Events: Nine Years' War: Battle of Barfleur, 1692
Date made: 1693
Exhibition: Nelson, Navy, Nation
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund.
Measurements: Painting: 1575 mm x 2335 mm; Frame: 1870 mm x 2620 mm; Overall: 124 kg

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