A Ketch-Rigged Royal Yacht Close-Hauled on the Starboard Tack off Dover

A ketch-rigged royal yacht is shown close-hauled on the starboard tack, in port-bow view, beating down Channel in the Strait of Dover. Dover Castle, town and cliffs are in the left distance beyond a cutter also going down-Channel, and a Dutch galliot fishing boat in the foreground. The latter has net in the water, with her foresail raised to keep a heading also taking her out of the yacht's way, though with no sense of urgency. A Royal Naval frigate of the blue squadron, heading north for the Downs, is astern of the yacht with another ship beyond flying the red ensign (as is the yacht) on the same course. Other vessels are in the distance. This is a relatively early work by Serres. It was purchased for the Museum in 1947 by Sir James Caird as by Charles Brooking (d. 1759) who is thought to have taught Serres - originally a French merchant sea captain - after he arrived in England as a prisoner of war in the 1740s. It shows Brooking's influence in terms of style - especially in the painting of the sea - as well as of van de Velde the younger, whose work Serres occasionally copied. The level of technical detail shown is exceptional. The yacht, for example, has a figurehead of a mounted classical horseman protected by metal guard-rails, as are the quarter figures at the stern, which are very rarely seen in paintings. The other decoration and elements of rigging are very precisely shown and the whole is populated with lively figures: an unconcerned fisherman smokes his pipe in the stern of the galliot and even on the distant cutter it is possible to see a blue-dressed man with a basket, suggesting it is a fishing smack or other merchant craft making passage. Dover town and castle are also accurately rendered in miniature. While Serres painted many ship portraits, his seas are rarely as lively as this, and soon developed a more characteristic manner. Taking a royal yacht as a subject was also fairly unusual for him and it is possible here that he may have seen yacht portaits by John Clevely the Elder, such as that of the 'Royal Caroline', dated 1760, also in the Museum collection. The latter has many similar characteristics, including the same form of lively sea, but painted in a far more solid manner than with the thin glazes which Serres uses, and in which he was probably following the example of Brooking. The picture is not signed and the identity of the yacht remains to be confirmed.

Object Details

ID: BHC1069
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Serres, Dominic
Date made: Mid - Late 18th century; circa 1760
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund.
Measurements: Painting: 876 mm x 1497 mm; Frame: 1035 mm x 1634 mm x 70 mm

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