Working Boats from Around the British Coast

This mural, made of five panels, was originally made for the decoration of the Nelson Bar on board HMS ‘Campania’. This aircraft carrier, converted as a floating display space, toured British ports as a microcosm of the Festival of Britain exhibition on London’s South Bank in 1951. The Festival had been organized to promote British contributions to arts, sciences and industries at a time of post-war austerity and recovery.

Ships and the sea featured largely in the Festival, not only because of their aesthetic appeal and the role they played in the economy, but also because they symbolized a romantic, timeless sense of Britishness. Alan Sorrell’s mural celebrates the fishing communities along the coast of Britain in charming individual scenes, separated by a decorative device of ropes held aloft by seagulls. On board small coastal craft, fishermen are seen in the company of cats, dogs, sheep and cows, conversing or at work. A shark, tagged ‘O.H.M.S. Please return to the Indian Ocean’ drinks tea, while, at each end of the composition, sailors peer at each other, surrounded by mermaids. Both the craft and sea-life are accurate representations. At the end of the Festival, the mural was selected by Sir Frederick Gibbert (architect and planner of Harlow New Town and closely involved with the Festival of Britain) as a gift to Harlow. The mural formed part of the exhibition ‘A Tonic to the Nation: The Festival of Britain’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1976. Under the care of the Harlow Art Trust, it was displayed in the town’s Moot Hall, but eventually disappeared from view until it was acquired by the National Maritime Museum in 2014. Sorrell’s mural paintings include those made for Southend Central Library (1934), ‘The Seasons’ for Myton (formerly Oken) School in Warwick (1949–50), St Peter’s Church in Bexhill-on-Sea (1951) , the Festival of Britain panels (1951), the head office of Bovril Ltd (1961) and Lloyds Bank in Southend (1963). However, he was eventually more widely known for his illustrative work imaginatively reconstructing important British archaeological sites, both for publication and as as 'dioramas' for museum display.

Object Details

ID: ZBA5905
Type: Oil painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Sorrell, Alan Ernest
Date made: 1951
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Purchased with the assistance of the Society for Nautical Research Macpherson Fund. Reproduced with the kind permission of Richard Sorrell for the Alan Sorrell Estate
Measurements: Overall: 1314 mm x 9541 mm x 92 mm x 371.3 kg; Painting: 1218 mm x 9204 mm x 12 mm

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