Completed British 19th C, except portraits, South East England: Artists and Subjects, Continental European after 1800 24 Further information sought on 'Peter the Great at Deptford'

Peter the Great at Deptford
Topic: Subject or sitter

‘Peter the Great at Deptford’ was the title of a large painting by Seymour Lucas which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in June 1886. The Spectator magazine reviewed the exhibition and the description of the painting shows that the work held at Lewisham is not Lucas's painting. Online images suggest that this work probably depicts Peter the Great at Zaandam, Holland, where he also studied shipbuilding.

In view of the artist's technique, I wonder if this work was produced by an illustrator for a biography of Peter the Great? Several biographical works were published in the late 1890s to mark the 300th anniversary of Peter the Great's visit to the Deptford in 1698.

The only trace I can find of this work is in 1898 when a painting of ‘Peter the Great Inspecting Model of a Ship’ was donated to the Royal United Service Institution Museum in Whitehall.

Art Detective user Al Brown has also commented on this painting: 'There are several images online of a print of this work, all of which record the subject as Peter the Great studying shipbuilding at Zaandam, e.g.

http://bit.ly/2uV1bWv
http://bit.ly/2hkiWvo

These prints are signed R. A. Muller – who is probably the German-born printmaker shown in the British Museum entry, here (http://bit.ly/2tVjYzO) and who later worked in America, but none of the prints record the artist of the original painting if there ever was one. It may be that the image was invented by Muller - he was responsible for other historical illustrations - and there never was an original painting: in which case the work at Lewisham would have been copied from the print. On the other hand, one website shows a full-length version of this picture but it's difficult to tell the technique: is this the original painting or an expanded version of the print - the lower half being rather unconvincing?'

According to the collection’s records, the painting was transferred to the archive collection of the new Lewisham London Borough from Deptford Town Hall. It has no further information on the acquisition or history of the painting and would welcome any further information.

Cliff Thornton, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Edward Stone,

The title of this painting has been amended to 'Peter the Great at Zaandam'. The painting is now listed as after Gustave Wappers (1803–1874), and an execution date of 1843 has 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.

23 comments

Without having being told it is oil on canvas, it looks 'prima facie' like a chromolithograph and we have come across a previous case on Art UK of a large and well-known earlier panoramic lithograph of Gibraltar by Robert Barker, mounted on canvas, and catalogued as an oil (perhaps now removed), so it might just be worth being sure in this instance. Given the general pastiche quality the painting on the back wall is a remarkably good shot at a Dutch sea-piece of the period in an appropriately Dutch black bolection frame, which supports the Zaandam theory.

Scott Thomas Buckle,

Sir William Allan exhibited a painting titled "Peter the Great teaching his subjects shipbuilding" (Royal Academy 1845, no 87). The painting was bought by the Czar and hung in the Winter Palace of the Hermitage, but is currently untraced (Elizaveta Renne, State Hermitage Museum Catalogue, Sixteenth to Nineteenth Century British Painting, New Haven and London, 2011, p. 26). A contemporary review of the 1845 Royal Academy exhibition in the New Monthly Magazine describes the painting (see attachment). The description of Allan's lost painting appears to accord with the composition of the Lewisham picture and the Muller engaving. Sir William Allan was a consummate draughtsman and produced hand studies (and on occasions, ship studies) for his paintings, although I have not, as yet, been able to locate any that were made for the picture in question.

I did, however, find an image of Seymour Lucas's "Peter the Great at Deptford" from the Royal Academy's 1886 catalogue, which I also attach.

Scott Thomas Buckle,

I subsequently found another review of Sir William Allan's "Peter the Great teaching his subjects shipbuilding", this time published in the Art Union in 1845 (see attached). This more detailed description of Allan's lost painting suggests that it is not the same composition as the Lewisham/Muller picture, but at least we can now eliminate the Allan painting from the investigation. There was certainly a degree of celebrity/notoriety attached to Sir William Allan's painting, so it may have been the direct inspiration for the other version discussed here.

1 attachment
Scott Thomas Buckle,

It may well be then, as Cliff suggests, that as well as the print, Muller may have also executed the original painting. In addition to the German/American printmaker mentioned at the top of this discussion, there is also the "British" painter Robert Antoine Müller (c1821-1883), who painted copies of portraits for Queen Victoria (Royal Collection) and exhibited, along with some portraits, a painting called "The Invention of Gunpowder" at the RA in 1872, when his address was given as "Kensington Villa, Notting Hill". He signed his paintings "Robert A Muller" or "R A Muller". Very little seems to be known about the life of Robert Antoine Müller. It may be another red herring, but could it be that he and the German/American printmaker are one and the same? Examples of his work can be found at ArtUK and here: http://www.artnet.com/artists/robert-antoine-müller/past-auction-results

Oliver Perry,

RA Muller was a wood engraver living in Brooklyn. He did the engravings for Eugene Schuyler's biography of Peter the Great, published by Scribners. This composition was opposite page 289 in the first volume. It's described on the list of illustrations as "PETER THE GREAT AT ZAANDAM (from an engraving by Wappers).

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc2.ark:/13960/t5gb26n35;view=1up;seq=386

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc2.ark:/13960/t5gb26n35;view=1up;seq=23

This doesn't however clear things up entirely: the one painting of the subject by Wappers which I could find is a rather different and altogether more sophisticated work:

http://www.artnet.com/artists/gustave-egidius-karel-g-wappers/peter-the-great-at-zaardam-qbU8aGGVFNrPlHo5HyXVSA2

The Rijksmuseum record is of an engraving by J. B. P. Michiels after Wappers. That in the Schuyler book bears the inscription 'R.A. Muller sc' (or perhaps '& co') bottom right so -if the book is correct in saying it is after Wappers (though not so in saying from an engraving 'by' him) it is a secondary version. The obvious problem, though only with the prints and the Lewisham image to make comparisons, is that Wappers generally looks a better painter than any of those suggest, including in his other variant of the subject (the one on artnet), and whatever the Lewisham image is it is at best some other 'after' derivative. Its in store almost just down the road so I'll try and fix a time to see it.

Oliver Perry,

There's a clearer version here, credited to "J.B.P.Michiels naar G. Wappers", photo from Gemeentearchief Amsterdam.
http://historiek.net/tsaar-peter-de-grote-was-slordig-met-mensenlevens/21841/

And the British Museum has a description (no image):
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=1599814&partId=1

So there doesn't seem to be much doubt that Michiels' print was at least published as after Wappers. It is possible though that the engraver "improved" it a little. There's a contemporary review of Wappers' painting in the "Revue nationale de Belgique". Someone with better French will have to check it - I had to rely on google translate. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=-rVaAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA69&lpg=PA69&dq; The description seems to fit in with Michiels print, except that the reviewer only mentions two of the four figures on the right, so perhaps the other two were added by Michiels.

"If he is still in the modest cabin of the Dutch builder, has not stripped clothes which recall his illustrious rank. We dare not affirm that this black velvet coat, notwithstanding its rich simplicity, does not at first cause a legitimate surprise to the spectator......He knows, even in his slightest mechanical processes, the construction of warships, and already his vast mind embraces the whole. This is indicated by the reduced model of a carcass of a ship seen on the table. Peter the Great himself explains all the parts to the builder who served as his master. Beside him, a little behind, two young men, who seem to have followed, but from a distance, the rapid progress of the lessons he has received, and are destined to raise with him the projected works of Kronstadt, still listen with greed."

The figures are described as "half-length".

In the Lewisham painting, the composition has been expanded slightly at the left (and slightly at the top), creating some awkward empty space, not present in the Michiels or Muller prints.

Cliff Thornton,

In my introduction of this topic I stated that a painting of "Peter the Great inspecting a ship model" had been donated to the RUSI museum in Whitehall in 1898. I had assumed that this picture was disposed of in 1962 when that museum closed. I have just discovered that I was wrong! The painting is one of several which RUSI retained to decorate its offices. The librarian has kindly sent me a low resolution image of their painting, and it appears identical to the picture at Lewisham! This adds weight to Pieter's suggestion that the work has the appearance of a chromolithograph.

Scott Thomas Buckle,

There appears to be an oil version in the Czaar Peterhuisje (https://zaansmuseum.nl/czaar-peter-huisje/ ) in Zaandam ascribed to Gustave Wappers.

I attach some images of it in situ, as well as one from the catalogue entry on the museum's website: http://zaansweb.adlibhosting.com/ais53/Details/collect/32506

The composition of the Czaar Peterhuisje oil is closer to the engraved versions by R A Muller and J B P Michiels. The Lewisham version has some marked differences, most notably the size of the window at the top left.

The collection has kindly sent me snaps of the picture edge which show the canvas has been wax-lined onto a new one and there is no obvious paper edge to indicate it is a chromolithograph -albeit looking like one (and we might perhaps have already turned up others if it were). I will go and check but begin to suspect it may thus be a commissioned oil copy for Deptford old town hall - though if so it would have had to be done directly from another oil version and it's odd to have copied Wappers (or a derivative) somewhere abroad and representing Peter at Zaandam, when (for example) Maclise's version of Peter at Deptford was probably already easily accessible in the Royal Holloway collection, let alone the later Seymour Lucas version. To be continued...but I suspect any progress on the Lewisham hand, if recorded at all, is likely to be evidence on paper on exact provenance (eg former Deptford local council minutes, Deptford now being part of Lewisham).

Scott Thomas Buckle,

The colours of the Lewisham version accord with the version at the Czaar Peterhuisje in Zaandam (apart from the cloak of the left hand figure), which suggests that it is copied from another oil version rather than from a monochrome print, although I still wouldn't rule out it being an overpainted print or a chromolithograph laid on canvas. I'm guessing that the differences in the composition from the known printed versions, principally to the top and the left of the picture, may be that the image has been extended to fit the frame.

I hope Cliff will post his low-res snap from the RUSI (which I've seen) and which would at least explain how an oil copy - if that's really what the Lewisham one is despite appearances - could in fact easily have been made from another already 'local'. The RUSI Museum formerly in the Banqueting House, Whitehall, where it developed in parallel to the RUSI itself (founded as an officers' library/ club in 1830) was well known and only dispersed to other mainly national collections in 1962/3: NMM took on much of its naval and maritime material for example). RUSI itself is of course still vey much a going concern as a 'think-tank' etc, just next door.

Edward Stone,

This discussion is now also linked to the Continental European after 1800 group.

The artnet image that Oliver found (http://www.artnet.com/artists/gustave-egidius-karel-g-wappers/peter-the-great-at-zaardam-qbU8aGGVFNrPlHo5HyXVSA2) with dimensions given there as 102.9 x 128.9 cm. (40.5 x 50.7 in.) and stated to be Wappers' 'Peter the Great at Saardam' painted in 1836, looks like it may be that which Invaluable records as sold by Sotheby's in New York on 28 May 1992, as follows:

Lot 231: WAPPERS, GUSTAAF (1803-1874)
Description: Peter the Great at Zaardam, 1836 Oil/canvas 41x51 inches (103x129 cm) signed & dated.

It is, as he says, both an entirely different composition, and -even in the fuzzy artnet image - clearly enough of a piece with Wappers other work to set aside from the 'Lewisham variant' and the other versions/ copies so far turned up in the Czaar Peterhuisje in Zaandam and the RUSI.

I saw the Lewisham picture in store there today, thanks to kind staff kindness there. Despite its colour-print look on screen it's a smoothly painted oil, in good condition, and sometime in (I would guess) the last 30-plus years has been wax-lined and remounted on the original stretcher, in what I assume is its original 'Victorian' frame. It wasn't possible to take it fully out of the storage rack but it appears to have no inscriptions, though there is a stencilled stock number (possibly Christie's?)partly covered by the turned-over edge of the new lining on the top stretcher bar: its something like S/610 or S/G10. It may be possible to confirm that in due course and it at least suggests it was in circulation before ending up in Deptford old town hall, whenever that was (i.e its not a copy expressly done for Deptford). While its very competently done I think it has to be a copy since its painting quality doesn't reflect the subleties which the 'Revue national de Belgique' (vol. 8, 1843, pp 68-70) commentary on the original that Oliver found: this was written when t was exhibited at the Antwerp salon of that year. Its long an prolix but confirms that it was by Wappers. The following are the salient subject and compositional points.

After saying that Peter -though master of a great empire - is usually shown dressed and working as a shipwright to learn the craft, it continues: 'M. Wappers has not wished to make this common contrast. His Peter the Great, even if still in the modest cabin of a Dutch shipbuilder, has in no way divested himself of the clothing that reminds one of his illustrious rank. We would not dare to assert that this attire of black velvet, despite its rich simplicity, would in no way initially prompt legititimate surprise in the viewer. But for ourselves, we are certain, on thorough reflection, that in this M. Wappers has been faithful to his subject, as he has conceived it. For as we have already given to understand, what he has wished to show is, not at all, the bizarre situation of the master of an immense empire dressing in coarse clothing and throwing himself into the vile labours of a common apprenticeship, but a noble and acute intelligence which aims to discover in the very entrails of their greatness, the mystery of the strength of States far less vast than his, of which he envies the power and wealth. Peter the Great has wielded the hammer so as to be ignorant of nothing in the encyclopaedic science of civilization which he has sworn to acquire. But at the moment in which the painter shows him, he has already passed that lesser period of his novitiate. He knows about the construction of warships down to the smallest technical procedures, and already his great mind encompasses the whole. This is what is shown by the scale model of the body of a ship, seen on the table. Peter the Great himself is using it to explain all the parts to the shipbuilder [far left] who acted as his teacher.
Beside him, a little behind, two young men who seem to have followed, but at a distance, the rapid pace of the lessons he has received, and are destined to build with him the projected shipyards at Cronstadt, still listen with naive avidity to the explanations of a Dutch artisan [the older man in the hat immediately left of the model pointing things out].....Let us move to the details of execution. The figures are half-length...the figure of Peter the Great is scrupulously exact but...[shown] too young....If the face of Peter I breathes and imposing calm, from another viewpoint, his two companions, particularly the first, nearest the viewer, show a curiosity that seems too forced. ...In comparison, the figure of the old worker in the background [the demonstrator in the hat] is of a really admirable truth and originality. As to the execution, this is one of the most lively and knowledgeably treated the we may have ever seen in the compositions of M. Wappers....The face of Peter... is not entirely in the light; it is on that of the first young man [to right] looking at the ship on which the daylight falls in full....' There's a lot more about the colour and tone of the original etc and, at the end, a note taken from the catalogue that the picture already belonged to Prince Davidoff. So perhaps the original is still in Russia, though clearly there were copies whether by Wappers or not -who became Baron Wappers as a significant Belgian national painter.

The Michiels print is presumably not long after 1843 and the Muller woodcut for the Schuyler biog of Peter (New York, 1890) based on it. The questions are which or where the original Wappers painting is and the status of the three 'versions' if one isn't the original.

The other puzzle is that I thought I saw online - but have lost the link- another image at fuller length (even though the original is said to be half-length), showing the bottom of the chair Peter is sitting in, and his legs: if anyone spots that, please post.

What is clear at this point is that the subject is indeed 'Peter the Great at Zaandam' (not Deptford); that the original was exhibited at Antwerp as the property of Prince Davidoff in 1843, and that the Lewisham canvas can at least be identified as 'after Gustaaf, Baron Wappers (1803-74) -though his name has a number of variations.

Al Brown,

An image of the full-length version is attached. It's on the same site as I found it before but which is currently down for maintenance (www.heritage-history.com).

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Thanks for those: though the Belgian review seems unequivocal ('Les figures sont a mi-corps') it would be more logical if the 'full length' was the original exhibited version, with the Michiels print and the other versions as derivatives, and it does show rather more the 'rich simplicity' of Peter's coat. But until/unless that clarifies it just reinforces the notion that the others are 'after'.

I have asked Lewisham direct to respond here to the suggestions in my last comment so we can wind this up, but perhasp Art UK can prompt when appropriate.

Thanks you to everyone who has commented on this painting and contributed to the discussion. On behalf of Lewisham Local History and Archives I'm happy to accept Pieter van der Merwe's comments on our painting

"What is clear at this point is that the subject is indeed 'Peter the Great at Zaandam' (not Deptford); that the original was exhibited at Antwerp as the property of Prince Davidoff in 1843, and that the Lewisham canvas can at least be identified as 'after Gustaaf, Baron Wappers (1803-74) -though his name has a number of variations."

We'll amend our catalogue entry and add this information to our records.

Thanks very much Lewisham (and to Robert for his practical assistance): 'Peter the Great at Zaandam', after Wappers (1843), though perhaps Art UK would decide how it wishes to record Wappers as to first-name(s) spelling, baronial title (or not) and so on.