Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Maritime Subjects 46 Does this painting depict the exploding Graham Island?

Volcanic Island Exploding with Three-Masted Vessel Standing Off
Topic: Subject or sitter

This is a strange subject to depict by a marine artist, who is best known for his ship portraits. I suggest that this is a depiction of Graham Island as it was named when it rose out of the Mediterranean Sea in late 1831. The island lay between Sicily and the coast of Tunisia. Once the volcano had ceased, the sea eroded the cone and the island disappeared beneath the waves in early 1832.

This painting was completed in 1862, and is a retrospective depiction of the scene. As the artist was based in Jersey, it may be that the vessel which appears in the foreground was a Jersey-based ship, whose captain witnessed the island in its volcanic phase. The exploding island was drawn by several artists, although Ouless’ is the only night-time scene. Here is another scene from the National Maritime Museum:

The collection comments:
‘We have no more specific information about this painting other than that Ouless was not only a prolific ship portrait painter but he did also record particular sea-borne incidents that he was presumably told about, including the “Dasher” rescuing the “Dispatch”.’

Cliff Thornton, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Jade Audrey King,

This discussion is now closed. The title has been changed to 'The 'Oliver Blanchard' of Jersey off a Volcanic Island at Night', and a note added: 'There is a possibility that the island depicted in this painting could be Graham Island in 1831/1832.'

This amend will appear on the Art UK website 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.

If anyone finds any more information on the relevant history of the ship or why Ouless might have made such an image in 1862, please do propose a new discussion by following the link on the Art UK artwork page.


If its not Graham Island, then it would be interesting to have an alternative suggestion of the same limited scale: I certainly can't think of a similar incident recorded by a marine artist of the 19th century, so tend to agree with your suggestion. It would also be useful to know if a signature (for example) shows this is definitely by Ouless: he's a modest calibre artist at best, but even for him this looks a bit crude (albeit dramatic) but that may partly be a condition issue.

Martin Hopkinson,

There were also island eruptions in 1861/2 - at Ternate in the Moluccas, 28 December 1861, and the Hibok- Hiboc volcano at Camiguin Tanda off the north coast of Mindanao in the Philippines in 1862, a volcano now under the sea . If of Graham Island it must derive from a much earlier representation. Are there prints of the early 183Os which might provide a source?

Martin Hopkinson,

Also in 1861 was an eruption at Makian , one of the the Maluku Islands in Indonesia - 28 December 1861

Cliff Thornton,

Thank you Martin, so there is a chance that the artist was painting a much more recent eruption than the one in 1831.

Martin Hopkinson,

Professor Graham Durant , Director of Questacom , The National Science and Technology Centre in Australia might have good ideas. For when he was at the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow, he was always on the look out for images of eruptions - he was a curator and lecturer on geology then

Martin Hopkinson,

Typo alert - it should be Questacon - and he is now an AM awarded in the Queen's birthday honours in 2012. The email address will end

Martin Hopkinson,

It should be borne in mind that there would have to have been a very specific reason why a painting was executed of an eruption dating from 30 years later. Without a commission it is difficult to see how an artist could make a money from doing such a thing.

Thanks for suggesting the other options. The ships are pretty crudely done but accord more with an 1860s date than c.1830(the one tar left back being a brig) though that at front would be more convincingly so with double topsails, but it was not universal. If it is an Eastern event its perhaps odd that no attempt has been made to include any Eastern craft as a geographical markerbut again that proves nothing. I'd still like to know why it is so firmly identified as by Ouless.

Martin Hopkinson,

Is it certain that this is by a professional painter, rather than by an amateur mariner painter? Could it be by an artist from the region depicted infuenced by European painting, rather than by a European?

Martin Hopkinson,

I presume that it is attributed to Ouless because of his signed and dated 1852 painting also owned by Jersey Heritage, 'The SS 'Amazon' on fire in the Bay of Biscay , a moonlit scene, but is it really by the same artist?

Michael Charles,

For what little it might be worth, I venture to suggest that, if this were indeed Graham Island, it would probably have been depicted not infrequently by Mediterranean gouache artists such as Michele Funno and his several even less sophisticated contemporaries, who appear to have had little difficulty in finding markets for their numerous dramatic portrayals of the periodic "eruzioni" of Vesuvius. Moreover, in those waters, the vessel shown passing the scene would surely have been far less likely to have been a full-rigged ship of any kind than, say, a trading schooner? My ha'porth is on this being one or other of the three similar occurrences identified by Martin as having taken place in the East, for not only are the dates of all of those more consonant with that of this painting but the painting itself seems to me to be simply the product of an amateur artist who actually witnessed the event, possibly an officer aboard the (Jersey-based?) ship shown - as evidenced perhaps by the precision of the depiction of the particular canvas that the ship was carrying at the time in question? I have to say that I hold a somewhat higher opinion of the work of Philip Ouless - particularly of his specific ship portraits - than do you, Pieter, but that being so I too would require a great deal of convincing that this painting, even if it does prove to bear what purports to be Ouless' signature, is in fact by his hand. I rather suspect that, it happening to be located in Jersey, it has at some time become attributed to Ouless as being the first local marine artist whose name came to mind, which attribution itself has in turn subsequently contributed to confusion with regard to its subject matter.

Michael Charles

Martin Hopkinson,

Is the painting recorded as coming from Ouless' studio? If so, I wonder if it was a picture which he owned rather than painted

The queries here are clearly two:

1. credibility of the artist attribution as Ouless on which it would be useful if the collection could state the basis - if known. If its really just an old inherited guess, then its probably better to say 'unknown'. Could we please have a response on that?

2.incident: if it's dated 1862 then it's more likely to be one of the alternatives suggested rather than then long-forgotten Graham Island: that however is a matter that could only be confirmed by parallel evidence of some sort.

Worrying the bone further without further evidence will not help, though things have at least advanced in terms of suggesting which incidents it might refer to.

Osmund Bullock,

I am a bit confused by the foreground ship's angle/perspective at this resolution, but is it possible the painting shows an oblique view of the stern? If so, might a higher-resolution image perhaps reveal the ship's name?

Jersey Heritage,

The painting is signed and dated.

Even on the high resolution image the name is unclear

Sorry to be literalistic but does ' the name is unclear' above mean the ship name, if present? If so, and artist and date are not in doubt the questions remaining are 'what, how and why'. The answer to the first two are 'some incident seen and either personally reported or in public print'. Could we see the hi-res, even if only a detail, and puzzle over the ship name a bit?

Thank you: that looks promising as and when you can get a close look at the canvas: apparently ends in ...SON and at least suggests its a vessel which was present: you also wouldn't expect to find a name on a trailboard (which is what is shown ) in the early 1830s but its common by the 1850s so again tends to indicate something later.

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, thank you, Jersey, very interesting. It looks very much as if a still-higher res - or a new, well-focused digital close-up snap - would yield the name. '-SON' is certainly possible, Pieter, though I favour 'NY'or 'AY' at the end - and there seems to be 'AX' or 'AN' in the middle. I am attaching an enhanced & resized version that may (or may not!) be slightly clearer.

Thanks Osmund: I wondered about the apparent X on the middle: taking your other suggestions into account could it be SAXONY? If one has a name one can start looking for ship reports of close encounters of a volcanic kind but perhaps not just on a guess....

Louis Musgrove,

Osmunds comment that the perspective is a bit funny matched my own view. I have noticed there have been quite a few Ouless paintings sold at auction recently , and a lot of them have the same fault -as does this painting- namely the mast head flags are pointing in the wrong direction- which is strange for a man who lived on Jersey and was familiar with the sea and ships. ??????????

The perspective is odd but the masthead flags (or rather pennants) are shown foreshortened roughly in accordance with the wind direction which is coming out of the picture since the foreground ship appears to be on a fine starboard reach as the direction of the smoke also indicates.

There is a very precise report of a new volcanic island emerging off the China coast in the 'Belfast Newsletter' of 6 June 1865 (quoting the North China Daily News), as sighted by the 'Veritas' of Carrickfergus which gave a precise position of lat. 20 degrees 35 mins 20 secs N, long. 145 degrees 4 mins 30 secs E. Regrettably it sounds too big and the date too late.

The 'Aberdeen Journal 'of 13 Jan 1864 includes the fullest of minor reports that Graham Island or (as it calls it, Isola Ferdinanda) was then thought to be re-emerging and about to cause a renewed international legal debate on sovereignty, the British from Malta having originally claimed it. This does not however suggest it was active as shown here. One which was , and very like by the account, appears to have emerged in August 1860 and was reported on by Lieutenant Lutke of the Russian steamer 'Turkey' (see for example repeat report in the Leicester Chronicle 1 March 1862) but this appears to have been in the Caspian Sea, not where one would find a ship with an English name (if it is English, as it seems).

Martin Hopkinson,

The awkwardness of the painting could reflect that it is based on an earlier representation of the eruption- possibly a wood engraving or lithograph. Do the vessels depicted suggest that it could be an event quite a bit earlier than 1862?

Judged solely on the main vessel its not, by general appearance, something one would put in the 1820s-30s rather than mid-century on. As to the island, the most persuasive likeness to Graham Island is that it looks rather like another painting of it at night, but seen from the other side (ie the offlying islets are at opposite ends) here

but there's no demonstrable 'copying' connection between the two images. Other images of Graham Island are limited and (were Ouless doing a later version of that) one is simply left asking why without any obvious way of arriving at an answer.

Apologies re the 1864-65 comments above which I realize are out of the time frame (for some reason I had 1865 in my mind for the inscribed date, not 1862).

Could I ask if there is any prospect of the collection having a hard look at the canvas and giving a better shot, if possible. on the ship name? If so that might get us a little forward. If not I'm inclined to suggest we call a halt for the time being having at least aired Graham Island as a possibility.

Jersey Heritage,

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this discussion, it has been fascinating to read. I also do not think there is an obvious answer as to why he painted it so we should bring this to a close.

Thank you: when you get an opportunity to see if the ship name is decipherable from the canvas rather than an electronic image perhaps you would let PCF know and we can do a bit more digging.

Osmund Bullock,

Assuming it's not possible to take a sharp-focused snap of/closer look at the ship's name any time soon, then that would seem the only thing to do. Frustrating, though, as it's so nearly readable now. Ah, well.

Jersey Heritage,

This is the best image that we could get.
One of my colleagues has just looked at this image and suggested that it could be the O Blanchard. There were 3 Brigs called the Oliver Blanchard, 1822 - 38, 1855 - 66 and 1868 - 99, built in Gaspe Newfoundland and owned by Charles Robin & Co.

There were many connections between Gaspe and Jersey, indeed Ouless appears to have visited around 1868, and his works are widely distributed in Nova Scotia.

1 attachment

Thank you for making the effort: the vessel shown is a full-rigged ship rather than a brig, but I'll have look at Lloyds Register for details. Interesting to know of the Newfoundland connections which might suggest an Icelandic-area volcanic effusion c. 1860 , though we've not yet turned one up.

On a very quick look solely round the date of the 1862 date of the painting, there seems to be no 'Oliver Blanchard' in Lloyd's Register ic.1860-62 so if Messrs C. Robin & Co of Jersey owned a brig of the name in the 1855-66 bracket it must have been somehow off-register. They did own a 257-ton ship 'Oliver Blanchard' (i.e the rig the painting shows) in 1834, listed among their fleet on p.85 of the 'Guide to the Island of Jersey...'published in that year by A.J. Le Cras, St Helier. This is presumably the 1822-38 one mentioned above, which subject-wise would take us back to the Graham Island possibility (c. 1831-32) but, if so, in retrospect.

Cliff Thornton,

Lloyds Register for 1831 describes the 'Oliver Blanchard' as trading between Liverpool and Jersey. However, she was reported arriving in Liverpool in late May 1831, having sailed from Trieste. If she was trading in the Mediterranean in the summer 1831, it is quite possible that her captain would have sighted the eruptions on Graham Island.

Martin Hopkinson,

Cliff's discovery suggests that Ouless may have used a drawing made by one of the officers or sailors aboard the 'Oliver Blanchard', when he made this painting . This might well account of the slightly 'wooden' representation. If this is true, can someone interested in the vessel have commissioned Ouless to paint the picture?

Ships have 'registered voyages' in Lloyds, but they are simply a statement of general intention and one frequently finds them in very different places, so there would be nothing unusual in the c.1830 'Oliver Blanchard' being in the Mediterranean in 1831-2. Any on-board sketching is just speculative (though again would not be unusual), but while limited, there were also other prints of Graham Island. Why -in terms of who for- Ouless might have done the subject 30 years later is again speculative but given the ship name does seem to be on it one has to presume for someone connected, possibly even the Robin family who (as we are told) owned three successive vessels of the name.

Given that the ship name seems clear enough for the registry/voyage circumstances, and is a 257-ton 'ship' not a brig, my suggestion to Jersey would be to consider reidentifying the picture as 'The 'Oliver Blanchard' of Jersey off a volcanic island at night (possibly Graham Island in 1831/2)'.

Further chasing might reveal more of the ships voyages at the time, but probably not adding anything more conclusive.

Well spotted: a rather better image of the ship too by a Neapolitan 'pierhead painter' (almost literally given the lighthouse on the mole is on the left); so she had a track record in the area to support the possibility of this one being Graham Island.

Martin Hopkinson,

This picture discovered by Oliver has not yet been recorded on It supports the idea that Ouless may have copied a south Italian or Sicilian 'pierhead' painting

If you put 'Graham Island Giulia Ferdinandeo' into Google (images)
two paintings will come up as the first two things, on the '' pages of the Smithsonian Institution: the second more colourful one is the canvas I was trying to refer to about 16 comments above. Irritatingly, if you click on it today you get only the other image and I can't see where to go from there to find it. As I've already said above, there is a similarity except that the view seems to be from the other side of the island judged by the position of the offlying islet(s). Also irritatingly it is not clear what the Smithsonian image is, who by, or where it is: its there for vulcanology interest only.

Jersey may be able to say why the picture Oliver has spotted is not already on Art UK: my guess based on other Neapolitan school images is that it may be in qouache (of which there was quite a local school), not an oil painting: its only 67 cm wide. Unfortunately the Jersey page is not specific on what 'Painting' means: i.e. materials are not stated albeit oil implied for most.

Jersey Heritage,

The painting spotted by Oliver on our online catalogue is gouache.

Thank you for all your suggestions and efforts. We will change our catalogue to The Oliver Blanchard of Jersey off a volcanic island at night, and note that there is a possibility that it could be Graham Island 1831/32.

Thanks for confirming the other image as gouache and bringing this to what I hope everyone agrees is a reasonable point for closure, at least for the time being. If Jersey (or anyone) manages to expand further on the relevant history of the ship or why Ouless might have done such an image in 1862 it can be flagged up again later. Many thanks for all the helpful inputs.