Scene in Plymouth Sound in August 1815 Sub-Title: The 'Bellerophon' with Napoleon Aboard at Plymouth (26 July - 4 August 1815)

Napoleon surrendered to Captain Frederick Maitland of the 'Bellerophon', 74 guns, on 15 July 1815. They sailed into Plymouth Sound on Wednesday 26 July where a great many people rowed out to see Napoleon while he remained there, detained on board.

The scene in this painting is set at 6.30 pm, when Napoleon usually appeared in the gangway to take the air. Contemporary accounts indicate that he obligingly posed for the boats of curious sightseers, including one naval officer who observed that the ex-emperor, dressed in a green coat with red collar and cuffs and gold epaulettes, looked at them with an opera glass for five minutes. Having stayed good-naturedly long enough to satisfy the curiosity of the ladies on this occasion, he sat down to a writing table and they saw no more of him.

In the foreground to the right is a cutter, in port-quarter view, reaching towards the'Bellerophon'. It is full of people with a blue ensign at the peak. Also in the foreground, just left of centre, is a rowing boat, in starboard-bow view, full of people sightseeing. Beyond her and right across the harbour a crowd of boats and sailing craft surround the 'Bellerophon', which is in starboard-broadside view in the rear centre distance. Napoleon can be seen standing in the gangway. Two frigates accompanied the 'Bellerophon' into Plymouth harbour, the 'Eurotas' and the 'Liffey'. One is visible in the right background in starboard-quarter view and the other in the left background in starboard-broadside view. The east side of the harbour is beyond. In the foreground the artist has shown the variety of people and small craft who went out to look at Napoleon, and how popular this outing was with the gentlefolk of Plymouth. There are women in straw bonnets, men in top hats and military gentlemen in crimson jackets. The artist has also portrayed ordinary sailors in the rigging. On 4 August the 'Bellerophon' was ordered to sea, and on 7 August Napoleon was transferred to the 'Northumberland', which immediately sailed for St Helena.

The artist came from an English family of painters of French descent who arrived in England in the wake of the French Revolution. He enrolled in 1796 at the Royal Academy Schools and from 1800 exhibited oils at the Academy. He also became a member of the Society of Painters in Water-colours. He continued to paint and teach in both media, producing principally landscapes but also figure and subject pictures. He co-founded the Society for the Study of Epic and Pastoral Design in 1808 with his brother Alfred, which became the Chalon Sketching Society. There, incidents or phrases from the Bible, Shakespeare, Classical literature and English poetry were set as themes for the members' drawings. Chalon was elected ARA in 1827 and RA in 1841. See also BHC2876.

Object Details

ID: BHC3227
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Chalon, John James
Events: Napoleonic Wars, 1803-1815
Vessels: Bellerophon (1786)
Date made: 1816
Exhibition: Art for the Nation; Greenwich Hospital Collection
People: Bonaparte, Napoleon; Cahln, John Greenwich Hospital Collection Chalon, John James
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Measurements: Painting: 965 x 1537 mm; Frame: 1250 x 1822 x 95 mm; Weight: 50.2kg

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