Davy Jones's Locker

'Davy Jones’s Locker' was one of four paintings exhibited by Wyllie at the Royal Academy in 1890. In 'Peregrine Pickle', the writer Tobias Smollet described the sailors’ devil, Davy Jones, in these words: ‘This same Davy Jones, according to the mythology of sailors, is the fiend that presides over all the evil spirits of the deep, and is seen in various shapes, perching among the rigging on the eve of hurricanes, shipwrecks, and other disasters, to which a seafaring life is exposed; warning the devoted wretch of death and woe’. Here Wyllie evokes Jones’s domain - a wrecked ship - resting on the bed of the ocean amid sea creatures and human remains. Wyllie made studies for the picture while cruising with his family in the Firth of Clyde in the summer of 1889, going under water with a diving helmet improvised from a biscuit tin. His wife Marion Wyllie later wrote of the ‘beautiful, green, transparent water, the loom of a wreck in the background, while a big rusty anchor, bones and jewels sprinkle the bottom. Many fish are swimming about, and an octopus, a careful study of which was made in the Brighton Aquarium, lurks in a corner.’ A number of the studies are in the NMM’s Wyllie Collection (for fish and octopus studies, see PAD0488-98; for wreck study see PAF0685).

A critic from 'The Times' wrote of the picture on 3 May 1890: ‘Mr Wyllie has for once left the surface of the sea in his fantastic picture called 'Davy Jones’s Locker' (81) – a picture which he has boldly and literally gone to the bottom to paint. We believe that we are accurate in saying that the observations for this curious work were taken from a glazed diving-bell, and that the seaweed, the stones, the anemonies strewn about “the deeps untrampled floor” were painted from nature by this most enterprising artist. What will the modern learner not do in the pursuit of truth? Mr Wyllie has been for a Challenger expedition on his own account, and none can say that he has not found his reward in the strange assemblage of forms and colours represented in his most original picture.’

Object Details

ID: ZBA5055
Type: Oil painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Wyllie, William Lionel
Places: London
Date made: 1890
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Purchased with the assistance of the Society for Nautical Research Macpherson Collection Endowment Fund
Measurements: Painting: 1025 mm x 1360 mm; Frame: 1320 mm x 1659 mm x 90 mm; Overall: 45.8 kg

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