A British Man of War before the Rock of Gibraltar
Oil on canvas
19 3/4 x 28 1/4 in (50 x 72 cm)
Marine painting - that is, painting of sea- and riverscapes and sailing vessels - was introduced into England in the late seventeenth century by Dutch artists such as the Willem van de Veldes and Adriaen van Diest. Through the late eighteenth century, the importance of British marine painting increased in direct relation to the growth of British navel power.
Although Thomas Whitcombe was a prolific and popular marine artist, little is known about his life. He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy but never became a member. His greatest preoccupation was recording the ships and sea battles of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, during which British navel supremacy in the Mediterranean, and the victories of the British fleet at battles such as the Nile, Camperdown, and Trafalgar, constantly thwarted Napoleon's ambitions.
Whitcombe's paintings were considered reliable visual records of the shipping of the day. This was an essential demand of patrons of marine art, who expected above all accuracy of detail in their ship portraits.
The Rock of Gibraltar is a small rocky headland at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula. The site has been in British hands since it was captured from Spain in 1704. Guarding the narrow, nine-mile-wide Strait of Gibraltar that forms the only natural outlet of the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, the Rock is of enormous strategic importance and remains a key British naval base to this day.
Private collection, U.K.; Christie's East, New York, July 9, 1997, lot 2
See Artist Profile