A First-Rate Shortening Sail

A flagship, on the right, is shown either letting fly her sheets to reduce speed or, perhaps in contradiction to the modern title, shaking out sail to proceed. There is some doubt about the identity of this ship, although it is probably the 'Britannia', 100 guns, the only first-rate in commission in the Admiralty list at the date of the painting. If so, she is shown as flagship of Sir John Norris, Admiral of the Fleet and Commander-in-Chief in the Channel in 1735, with the Union flag flying at the main and the red ensign from the stern. A gun is firing a salute from the bow. The decks are full of sailors and several figures are shown climbing the shrouds. The two officers looking at the rest of the fleet from the gallery of the Admiral's great cabin in the ornately carved stern imply that an important moment is being recorded in the painting. Several sailors are positioned in the tops (the platforms of the masts) which have distinctive red canvas side panels. Since the 'Britannia', sailed for Lisbon in June 1735 following a refit in 1733-34 this may be the event recorded.

The picture is characterized by careful delineation of the shipping and by attention to detailing, such as the figures in the small boats in the foreground to the centre and to the right. Although the painting is believed to be one of a pair with BHC1040 and intended to be positioned over a door, no evidence exists to support this other than the fact that they are of the same size and were acquired together.

Scott belonged to the first generation of British marine painters, who worked in the tradition of the van de Veldes and the other Dutch artists who came to practice in London from the 1670s. His reputation chiefly rests on his topographical views of London but he was a very good marine painter, who accepted commissions like this and whose artistic and social skills eclipsed - at least in business terms- those of his slightly earlier contemporary Peter Monamy. He was notably averse to travelling by sea himself but produced many small drawings and watercolours to be incorporated later as details into his oils, such as men rowing and unloading boats, and often drew his ships from models. This painting is signed and dated 'Saml Scott 1736'.

Object Details

ID: BHC1039
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Scott, Samuel
Vessels: Britannia (1719)
Date made: circa 1736
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund.
Measurements: Painting: 2286 mm x 2197.1 mm; Frame: 2603 mm x 2495 mm x 88 mm

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