Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Maritime Subjects, South East England: Artists and Subjects 10 Does this painting depict a rescue near Dover?

Topic: Painting description

Does this painting, which has been previously discussed on Art Detective here:, actually show a rescue? See the small boat in the middle ground. Is its title really 'Going to the Rescue' no.29 in Wallis & Sons, 19th annual winter exhibition at the French Gallery in 1871/1872? And does it date from 1871?

Weber exhibited other pictures of subjects close to Dover in the same exhibition. Are the cliffs identifiable north or south of Dover? The small boat suggests the proximity of a landing place. Other than the ports of Dover and Folkestone, only the beaches at St Margaret's Bay and beneath Kingsdown are nearby. The chalk cliffs are certainly similar in type to those on this stretch of the coast.

The collection comments:

'The suggestion that this painting shows a rescue rather than simply a wreck certainly has merit. The small boat in the middle ground has always been interpreted as a lifeboat escaping the wreck but it is possible to interpret the scene both ways.

As to the title actually being 'Going to the Rescue' and the painting dating to 1871, it is difficult to say. The painting has been known
as 'Wreck on the Kentish Coast' since it entered the collection in the 1940s (with the caveat that the donor also identified the artist as Thomas rather than Theodor Weber). The painting appears to be updated but there is certainly nothing stylistically to prohibit an 1870 date.

As to the identification of the scene as Dover, we would concur that the cliffs in the rear are certainly similar to the chalk cliffs of Dover.'

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Edward Stone,

The title of this painting has been updated to 'A Wreck on the English South Coast, with a Boat Going Out to Rescue Survivors'. A painting description has also been added. These amendments will be visible on Art UK in due course.

Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.


Charles Payton,

Is it possible to have a high res version of the picture for inspection please?

Osmund Bullock,

Well spotted, Martin. Even at the resolution on the Art UK version (significantly higher than the one we have here), there is absolutely no doubt in my mind at all that the boat and the men rowing it are heading *towards* the wreck, not away from it. I honestly don't think it can be interpreted any other way - unless the boat is supposed to have escaped some distance from the vessel, but then turned back to help others...possible, I suppose, but the its position makes it most unlikely. I agree that it could easily be a work of 1871, but don't know enough to have an opinion on the location - the big rocks look distinctive, but could of course have been added for artistic effect.

The painting's composition actually reminds me of a slightly similar, but later work I have by Thomas Rose Miles. See attached. (A poor photo, sorry, and the picture's in the middle of cleaning and damage repair.)

1 attachment

Wreck behind/ boat to foreground, with the latter going in either direction but often to help, is a frequent compositional formula (with the less common variant of a ship behind rescuing a boat-load of survivors to the fore, as here:

Location for the Weber is tricky: one really has to appeal to local knowledge, but I suspect its more likely to be based on his knowledge of Kent coast geology (or even the Normandy side) rather than a specific location.

I agree it appears to be a rescue scene; a large boat seen from broad off the port quarter, with a pronouncedly sloping counter stern, and canted over sharply away from the viewer; a helmsman standing astern and steering by an unseen rudder; apparently four men rowing with four oars, in pairs abreast; a fifth seated ahead of them (rather than convincingly also rowing with another unseen oar to starboard); another man standing in reddish dress in the bow and hailing the wreck, which is apparently intended as a three-master seen from astern, off the starboard quarte, and with its bow pointing towards what appears a stormy evening sunset (i.e. roughly west). Its fallen mizzen mast is over the side towards the viewer; mainmast, foremast and bowsprit beyond are still standing, with survivors clustered forward. A pair of empty davits are prominent amidships, for a boat much smaller than that approaching, underlining that those on board have lost their own means of escape.

Though the overall effect is dramatic the representation of both ship and rescue boat suggests Weber lacked practical nautical knowledge beyond general impressions. Masts rigged in the way he shows, for example, are made up of separate lower and upper parts, not single vertical spars. It would also be unusual for a boat of the size shown to be rowed by paired oarsmen abreast, as seems the case, rather than alternating ones. Its hull form, and what can be seen of the stern the ship, are also open to nautical critique.

In terms of being inspired by, (rather than representing) the English south coast, the cliffs on the right would most probably have to be west of Beachy Head. The distant headland and nearer profile could have been suggested by Seaford Head - which is in Sussex rather than Kent- seen from the shoreline at Hope Bay (Hope Gap), as in the the third shot in the link below: the fourth looks back east towards Beachy Head, where the cliffs are higher and more vertical. Hope Gap is also one of the few places on can easiy reach the shore to get such a viewpoint.

The original question was partly whether this was an exhibited picture of 1871 titled 'Going to the rescue'. It's clearly signed but not dated and might well be but, unless anyone can think of a way to prove it, is there anything more to add? (Incidentally, the 'Th' of the signature probably explains the donor's mistaking of Thomas for Theodor.)

Assuming the case for this being Weber's 'Going to the rescue' of 1871 remains unproveable -albeit very likely -it would be useful if the collection would take a view on minor adjustment of the present desriptive title to 'A wreck on the English south coast' : I think -
reason given above - that this would be topographically safer than 'Kentish'. A more complete one would be 'A wreck on the English south coast, with a boat going out to rescue survivors'.

Can we wrap this up please? My recommendation is that the collection adjust the title to 'A wreck on the English south coast, with a boat going out to rescue survivors' ,noting that it may be Weber's exhibited 'Going to the rescue' of 1871 and that the coastline may also be based on Seaford Head from Hope Gap, in Sussex rather than 'Kentish' as hitherto loosely suggested.

Edward Stone,

The collection has been contacted about this recommendation.

Following consideration and investigation into the documentation we possess for this particular work we are happy to accept the title 'A wreck on the English south coast, with a boat going out to rescue survivors'.

We'd like to change the description to read as follows:

"This painting, previously provisionally entitled 'Wreck On The Kentish Coast' and believed to depict sailors escaping a stricken vessel in a lifeboat is now believed to depict a rescue scene. The large boat going out to rescue survivors is visible in the middle foreground with a helmsman steering astern and four men rowing in pairs abreast. A fifth man is seated ahead of them while another man is standing in the bow and hailing the wreck. The wreck is a three-master with a fallen mizzen mast which is seen from astern with its bow pointing roughly west towards what appears a stormy evening sunset. A absence of a boat on the side of the sinking ship indicate that those on board have lost their own means of escape.

The original identification of the scene as the Kentish Coast has also been placed in doubt and it has been suggested that the location is more likely to be Seaford Head from Hope Gap in Sussex.

There has been speculation that this painting might be Theodor Weber's 'Going to the Rescue' exhibited in 1871-1872, but this has not been established."