Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Maritime Subjects, Yorkshire, The Humber and North East England: Artists and Subjects 17 Can we confirm this as a view of Flamborough Head, Yorkshire, with the 18th Century lighthouse?

Topic: Subject or sitter

Flamborough Head has white cliffs and a round lighthouse, since the late 17th Century. Swift's 'Off Flamborough' is in Darlington Library (

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

1 attachment

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The title has been updated to ‘Coastal Shipping off Cliffs with a Seamark Tower’.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


The Collection has commented: 'It certainly looks possible that the scene depicts Flamborough. The old chalk lighthouse wasn't quite round, having angled sides, but it's not inconsistent with Swift's view. A windmill at Flamborough is listed on the Wikipedia 'List of windmills in the East Riding of Yorkshire' but with no further details. I will add the information to the picture record that this is a possible view of Flamborough Head and lighthouse.'

Charles Payton,

May I just make a few more observations? In researching dozens of images for my little book on the National Trust lighthouses I have never seen the like of this picture and it intrigues greatly. My first instinct is that this may be a purely imagined picture, which has several interesting aspects to it.

The lighthouse and indeed the windmill are distinctly odd.

On any measure the tower is far too close to the edge of the cliff to be Flamborough new light and definitely not the old. In any case, even if it was right, I suspect one would not see the entire light house from the point of view of the artist (head height over the water and about half a mile to a mile off). Surely the tower would be cut by the cliff?

The chances a windmill, a post mill at that, would survive in such a location must be suspect? And its sails are queer although I think there are examples of such in Holland.

Which brings us to the scene of vessels. What exactly is going on here? Two dutch fishing types with a boat, also dutch, and presumably belonging to one of them are in consort in very light airs with a small brigantine. The latter seems to be bringing up but rather untidily. Not an anchor in sight and the boat without oars.

The artist seems to know his vessels well and these oddities are strange particulalry since he has seen fit to name the larger dutch vessel (I cannot read it in the scan).

Guillaume Evrard,

From Charles's thorough observations, seems the question got to with the nature of the view: veduta or capriccio?
From the above and the obituary in the Art Journal (below), it would seem Swift is mainly interested in vessels (with the knowledge from his sailing experience), and brings coastal elements for the picturesque (as a "very clever" "self-taught artist"), and provide Northern viewers with elements reminiscent of the surrounding area (as a "scene-painter"), without attempting a topographical depiction (hence the oddities).

Could be a case of adding dates to the record of the work too, around 1855-1869.

"JOHN WARKUP SWIFT." Art Journal, no. 91, 1869, pp. 216.
This artist, well and favourably known in the north of England as a very clever marine-painter, died suddenly in his studio, Oxford Street, Newcastle-on-Tyne, on the 7th of May, at the age of fifty-four. Like Stanfield, and others of his class, Mr. Swift was a self-taught artist. Brought up at Hull, amid ships and sailors, the bias of his mind soon manifested itself. For several years he was engaged as a sailor in the American trade, and the experience he thereby acquired proved of incalculable advantage to him in his future profession. Relinquishing the pursuits of the sea for those of the land, he devoted himself with energy and zeal to the study of Art; one of his earliest engagements having been that of scene-painter to an amateur dramatic club. About fifteen years ago he settled in Newcastle, where he practised marine-painting almost exclusively; though not entirely neglecting landscapes; the latter were scarcely less successful than his other subjects. His principal pictures are: - 'The Channel Fleet running into Sunderland in 1863,' 'Shields Harbour' - both large works, - 'Crossing the Bar,' 'Callorhaughs, near Bellingham,' 'Ascension Day,' and 'The Aquatic Race, in 1862, between Robert Chambers and Robert Cooper,' for the championship of the Tyne. Several of his pictures have been reproduced in chromolithography.

Both those links work. The Carmichael picture of course looks down the coast rather than up and is dated 1866, so the 1669 chalk tower is to far right and the 1806 light (not present in the Swift painting and its position probably just out of frame to left) is shown at lower level by the mainmast of Carmichael's fishing boat on the right. The 1669 tower was more a seamark, since never with a light on top and the point has already been made that it is really octagonal, which does not show in either image.

Looking at modern photos of the location and the rather broken form of the cliffs, I am sufficiently convinced to think the Swift canvas is intended as 'Coastal shipping off Flamborough Head' . If so, however, the new lighthouse is being deliberately omitted given his dates, as well as the old tower apparently being brought closer to the water: but perhaps that was his point - i.e. a historically romantic image, taking liberties with details and without a steamer in sight given he must have painted it mid-century, when they were already common.

The title ought to change anyway to at least 'Coastal shipping off cliffs with a [seamark] tower' since there are more than just 'boats' there, even if the collection would prefer to leave the likely identification as Flamborough for a note under 'More information'.

Marcie Doran,

I've been researching the donor Sarah Greenfield.

J. J. Greenfield & Co. Ltd. operated from 11 Carliol Square, Newcastle upon Tyne [the address on the label] for many years in the 20th century. The owners, John James ("Johnny") Greenfield (1867-1930) and his brother Thomas Greenfield (1884-1941), were “motor and electrical engineers”. Their sister Sarah was one of the executors of Thomas's sizeable estate.

I see the collection web-entry already says the painting 'may show a view of Flamborough Head' though misdating the 'chalk lighthouse' as 18th-century rather than 17th. Perhaps the title could be reconsidered on the lines already suggested (changing the nautically misleading use of 'boats') and this could then perhaps wrap up. Swift was a Newcastle painter, so broadly an east coast man, and no-one has suggested anywhere more likely than Flamborough.

Louis Musgrove,

How about cap de Antifer lighthouse.? The notch in the Cliff just to the left of the lighthouse seem to match.

The artist died 20 years before the first lighthouse at Cap d'Antifer was built in 1890: that was destroyed in WWII and the present one built in the 1950s. The cliffs there are also much higher than even the modern d'Antifer tower.

The closure recommendation for this is at 02/04/2024 23:14, suggesting a slightly more specific descriptive title. Both the collection website entry and Art UK already note it may show Flamborough, though some uncertainty remains given the 17th-century tower there is polygonal not circular and further inland.

The matter now rests with the collection, so could we now have either a decision from it or - if no reaction to further request - just Art UK closure?