Yachts of the Cumberland Society Racing on the Thames, circa 1815

Yacht racing began in an organized fashion on the Thames in the mid-18th century. The Duke of Cumberland founded the Cumberland Fleet for Thames racing in 1775. This was the ancestor of the Royal Thames Yacht Club and used a version of the white ensign without the large cross of St George. This painting is therefore an early depiction of this activity for the leisured. The Thames has been portrayed in a rural context with a country estate in the distance to the left. Green fields sweep down to the riverbank, and there are figures in horse-drawn carriages watching the race. On the river, one yacht has been placed in the foreground, with two crew on board and a gentleman in the stern, wearing a cream-coloured top hat. Such yachts usually flew the burgee flag of the club, together with the personal flag of the owner. This yacht is depicted winning the race, with several others close behind it on the left of the picture. On the right, in the foreground, a small boat of onlookers wave in salute to the winning yacht. The gentlemen raise their hats while a woman in the stern wearing a yellow poke bonnet looks on. Other small craft are also in the water at the finishing line to welcome the victor.

The artist has intentionally adopted a low viewpoint and this has emphasised the impression of the yacht's speed. He has also bathed the yachts in a bright light to provide a contrast with the dark strip of the river in the foreground.

Object Details

ID: BHC1196
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Havell, William
Date made: 1815
People: Cumberland Society
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Macpherson Collection
Measurements: Painting: 495 mm x 698 mm; Frame: 590 mm x 795 mm x 46 mm

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