Maritime Subjects, South West England: Artists and Subjects 16 Does this painting by Thomas Butterworth depict the coast of Plymouth?

English Men O'War
Topic: Subject or sitter

Are there any suggestions for the location of this scene, with evidence? It is not easily identified even when apparently the same and seen more clearly (but a bit closer in) in a painting at the Britannia Royal Naval College, so far just described as 'Seascape' by 'unknown artist' but also fairly clearly by Thomas Buttersworth from its style:

http://bit.ly/2iHJ29k

Is it Plymouth in both? There's either a breakwater or something similar to the left (that at Plymouth was built in the 1820s) and apparently masts rising above low-lying white buildings at far right. The three luggers in the foreground all look fine for British south-coast craft and it’s clearly a naval port from the other shipping: I just can't square the location with my admittedly hazy recollections of Plymouth and views of it.

The Plymouth canvas is illustrated as one of the Buttersworth examples in E. H. H. Archibald's 'Dictionary of Sea Painters' as 'Shipping off Plymouth', so presumably that has some basis – but more detail would be useful.

Pieter van der Merwe, Maritime Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK

16 comments

Edward Stone,

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Edward Stone,

The website is back up and running, apologies for any inconvenience.

Andy Mabbett,

My first enlarged crop shows the horizon and the features above it the second a distinctive pale building. If we had access to a higher-resolution version of the original, we'd be able to see more here.

2 attachments
Martin Hopkinson,

Is there any reason to think that this is a British port at all?

Martin Hopkinson,

It is not at all like Antonio Suntach's 1788 engraving Le Port de Plymouth after Thomas Milton [British Museum 1873,0809.610]

Could it be a Spanish port?

Cliff Thornton,

Can I suggest that Portsmouth is considered as the possible location for this painting. The western side of the channel (if this is a north looking view) features a long straight embankment, as in this painting. Immediately to the west of the channel is Fort Blockhouse with its castellated wall. Further to the west, the red bricked building is Haslar Hospital. The castellations suggests that this was painted pre-1813, when the sea-facing wall of the fort was rebuilt as a casemented battery.

Martin Hopkinson,

I find it hard to recognise the hills behind the port as those behind Portsmouth

Martin Hopkinson,

Could the label on the stern of the most prominent vessel be enlarged, as it may be legible?
Could all the vessels depicted have been in use elsewhere than in Britain - for instance in one of the places under British rule - such as the West Indies?

Kieran Owens,

Attached is a composite of two images, the one on the left being the subject of this discussion. The one on the right, which is in a private collection (and possibly having been bought from an auction at Bonham's), is entitled 'Euryalus' (Capt. Blackwood), 'Thunderer' and 'Ajax' leaving Plymouth on the way to Cadiz and the Battle of Trafalgar', and is also attributed to Buttersworth.

If this latter painting's title and attribution are correct, then it appears that this discussion's painting is also of Plymouth. The similarities of the details in the two paintings are quite obvious , especially of the central two-masted "luggar" in the foreground of both, the gently undulating profile of the low hills behind the port, the large building on the left-hand-side of each painting, and the white building (or is it a pier and lighthouse at the entrance to the harbour?) that sits brightly in the middle of each. If the right-hand-side painting was executed in or shortly after the action of its title then it dates from 1805/1806, when Buttersworth was 37/38 years old.

And if it is accepted that the port depicted is Plymouth, then that is also the port depicted in the painting held by the Britannia Royal Naval College, as mentioned above, and as linked to again here:

http://bit.ly/2iHJ29k

If Buttersworth was the painter of all three of these works, it might be that they are all variations on the same theme of (the same three?) fighting ships heading from Plymouth to the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805. Naval experts might be able to verify their identities and confirm this suggestion.

Andy Mabbett,

"Could the label on the stern of the most prominent vessel be enlarged, as it may be legible?"

Again, the low resolution of the available versions of the image mean that no useful information is obtainable.

Kieran Owens,

Additionally, for the sake of visual clarity, here are the three paintings in a composite image, with the attributed Buttesworth/Plymounth canvas in the middle. All three paintings could have been executed using Drake Island, off Plymouth, as the viewing point.

Kieran Owens,

For some reason it would appear that the composite images that I posted on the above comments have disappeared from the site. I attach both of them again here. Hopefully they will remain as posted.

Composite 1: Canvas on the right, which is in a private collection (and possibly having been bought from an auction at Bonham's), is entitled 'Euryalus' (Capt. Blackwood), 'Thunderer' and 'Ajax' leaving Plymouth on the way to Cadiz and the Battle of Trafalgar', and is also attributed to Buttersworth.

Composite 2: Three paintings in a composite image, with the attributed Buttesworth/Plymounth canvas in the middle.

Kieran Owens,

Opps...typing too fast. Plymounth above should, of course, read as Plymouth!!!

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