Photo credit: Winchester City Council’s Topographical Art Collection
Three decker leaving Portsmouth Harbour: HMS 'Victory' centre-right distance in the harbour beyond, as guardship, Gosport-side battery (Fort Blockhouse) to left behind the fishing boat and paddle steamer.
The Collection has commented: ‘We have never had a definite attribution of this painting (although Portsmouth was always suspected) so any help identifying the subject matter, and artist is appreciated. How can you be so sure that it is Victory in the distance?
A little research into the records shows that this painting was attributed to a G. Chambers. Can anyone offer an insight in Chambers as the potential artist?’
Pieter van der Merwe commented: ‘The three-decker in the distance has harbour (reduced) rig as the port guardship/ flagship and that is what 'Victory' was -still afloat- at Portsmouth from coming out of active service in c. 1818 (if I recall the date correctly) until going into its current dry dock at the turn of 1921-22 (though still the port flagship there). In practice you would find it very hard to find any view of Portsmouth in which 'Victory' was naturally 'in shot' -as here - which excluded it. This is probably a picture of 1820s-30s date but the hand eludes me, though a competent 2nd/3rd rank marine one: it looks a bit blue for one of the Knells and perhaps a bit early but that sort of thing. I think for the moment I'd change the title to 'Shipping off Portsmouth Harbour entrance.
That's an understandable old 'received attribution' but I doubt from the general painting manner that it is by either George Chambers senior or junior, and while more the former's sort of subject, not the latter's usual fare. I'd also now be a bit more cautious about identifying 'Victory' as the three-decker in the harbour though it probably is since she was there from 1819. The one coming out flies the flag of a vice-admiral of the blue at the fore.’
Almost certainly this is Portsmouth, the fortifications on the left of the painting would be Fort Blockhouse, would need to see a larger version of the image just to confirm.
The detail Art UK has supplied at the top shows it is unquestionably Fort Blockhouse, with the masts of what is almost certainly intended as 'Victory' inside the harbour now also much clearer. The foreground vessel (yawl-rigged) is also more clearly a passage-boat of some sort: a soldier or Marine with his wife(?) are among the passengers. The rig of the one it obscures is a little curious: basically that of a brig but with an unusual gaff-sail also on the foremast. The apparent paddle boxes and plume of smoke indicate it is in fact a steamer but where the funnel fits is not clear: it's also apparently Naval from the blue ensign.
I'm inclined to think the date is 1830s-plus rather than earlier and can understand a prior attribution to George Chambers junior (1829-78), though still doubt its correct.
'Shipping off Portsmouth Harbour entrance' would certainly be a better title.
Thank you for all the comments. I shall amend the title to 'Shipping off Portsmouth Harbour entrance' as suggested and add Fort Blockhouse to record subject matter. Portsmouth Museums if you would like to e-mail me at email@example.com I will see if we have a better image.
Many thanks Winchester for that rapid resolution: we can leave this open for a while (especially if there is a better image, or another look finds other clues on it) to see if more hdway can be made on artist.
Is the work possibly by William Anderson (1757 – 1837)? I have attached two composites for ease of comparison:
From the 1stDibs website:
“18th century Dutch warships at sea off with fishing boats in full sail”
For the composite, I flipped the fishing boat in the 1stDibs image.
From the akg-images Ltd. website:
“H.M.S. Victory & H.M.S. Prince in Portsmouth Harbour”.
“Oil on canvas, 44 × 67cm.
One of a pair.
Lot 9, 12/7/95.”
For the composite, I compared the largest ship in each work.