A View from the Gun Wharf at Portsmouth

Previously called 'Ships off the Gun Wharf at Portsmouth, 1770', this may be the first of the five paintings (nos 106-110) that were Serres's submissions to the the first annual exhibition of the Royal Academy, London, following its foundation by George III in 1768. Joshua Reynolds was the first President and Serres the only specialist marine painter who was appointed a foundation member: from 1780 he also took over from Joseph Wilton as its librarian.

The title given above is now (2023) the one Serres used in 1769. The Gun Wharf (or rather wharves) at Portsmouth lay between the old town on Portsmouth Point and the Common Hard and Dockyard to the north. This atmospheric view, of the sort for which Serres was admired, looks out over a naval two-decker drying sails in the entrance to the harbour, the mouth of which can be seen to the left with the Blockhouse Fort on the Gosport (far) side. A frigate and a cutter lie to its right; a cutter-rigged hoy under sail is to the left with what may be a flute-sterned cat-bark - a merchant vessel - and a larger cutter alongside it. The large building on the horizon is the Royal Naval Hospital at Haslar.

Two soldiers are included among the men working on crates and gun-carriages in the foreground with a naval officer, centre right, gesturing to a seaman in slop breeches who may be coxswain of the boat largely hidden below the quay edge at right: the latter has repectfully removed his tarpaulin hat in the exchange.

Serres was a well-born Frenchman from Gascony who ran away to sea in merchant service rather than follow family wish that he enter the Church. He probably arrived in England as a naval prisoner of war, took up painting and settled there. His early paintings show the influence of Brooking and Monamy's interpretations of Dutch art but he rapidly achieved recognition for his more documentary visual accounts of sea actions of the Seven Years War, 1756-63, becoming established as England's leading marine painter. His work was even more in demand in the 1770s and 1780s, recording the naval history of the War of American Independence. A well respected and sociable man, he was appointed Marine Painter to George III in 1780, who had a warm regard from him and bought various examples of his work, especially pictures recording royal reviews of the fleet in the 1770s.

Object Details

ID: BHC1920
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Serres, Dominic
Date made: circa 1769; 1772-1793 1772-93
Exhibition: Art for the Nation; Macpherson Collection
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Macpherson Collection
Measurements: Painting: 915 mm x 1498 mm; Frame: 1090 mm x 1640 mm x 110 mm

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