A Sailor's Return in Peace

A sailor is shown returning home to his family standing outside a cottage. He is embracing his wife while a boy hugs his father's right arm. A smaller boy on the far left holds his stick and his father's right hand, and carries his bundle. On the right a young girl holds a small child in her arms. In the background the domesticity of the setting is implied by the jug resting on the window-sill of the cottage on the right. The theme of a war hero's return to home and hearth is emphasized by the sensibility and Englishness of the landscape setting.

Thomas Stothard (1755 -1834) was an early Romantic artist. He was one of the most popular, prolific and successful artists of his time. He initially served a seven-year apprenticeship as a designer of silk fabrics and was also a prolific illustrator of many popular books such as 'Robinson Crusoe' and 'The Pilgrim's Progress'. He produced smaller scale compositions, including naturalistic watercolour landscapes and historical genre scenes, and exhibited numerous pictures at the Royal Academy, of which institution he became librarian in 1812. He also contributed history paintings to large-scale patronage schemes such as the three wall paintings for the staircase of Burghley House, Cambridgeshire. His career thus shows the possibilities open to artists at the beginning of the industrial and consumer revolutions, since besides illustrations, Stothard designed vignettes for books, invitation cards, banknotes, Wedgwood jasperware reliefs and silverwork.

An engraving from this picture (see PAH7354) was one of a set of four similar upright-format prints after Stothard issued as a set on the same date (16 April 1798), the other three showing 'Sailors in a Fight' (PAH7372), 'Sailors in a Storm' (PAH7353) and 'Sailors in Port' (PAH7355): for unclear reasons, the 'Fight' and 'Storm' were mezzotints and the other two aquatints. The print of this subject shows some firming up and could be from a more finished, less sketchy, version. None is known, however, and it is possible that the image only reached its final level of finish in the engraved form.

Stothard's ' Wreck of the 'Halsewell' ' of about 1786 (ZBA4537) demonstrates a similar relationship between a small oil done specifically for engraving, and of which no larger version is known, and the print apparently derived from it (PAH0504). The same seems to be the case for the print of 'Sailor's in a Fight', of which the even sketchier oil version on which this appears to be based is also known (private collection).

Object Details

ID: BHC1125
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Stothard, Thomas
Date made: circa 1798
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund.
Measurements: Overall: 678 mm x 551 mm x 75 mm;Painting: 568 x 437 mm

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