Completed British 18th C, except portraits, Maritime Subjects 21 Is 'A Man-of-War and Other Vessels at Sea' by Charles Brooking?

A Man-of-War and Other Vessels at Sea
Topic: Artist

This is possibly by Charles Brooking, perhaps overpainted in the sky or otherwise not at his best, but it looks a bit above Francis Swaine as the other obvious alternative.

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

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The artist record has been altered from ‘British School’ to ‘Charles Brooking (attributed to)’ and the title changed to ‘Sailing Warships at Sea’.

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.


Cliff Thornton,

As the painting is on loan from the Kennedy family, I wondered whether this work could have been commissioined by Captain Archibald Kennedy RN (1736-1794). He had an eventful career in the Navy, but his appointments appear restricted to 32-gun, 5th rate frigates. Whereas the ship in the painting is a 50-gun vessel. Whoever the artist is, I suggest that the work is retitled as this is a typical ship's portrait, showing the same vessel as she appears from different aspects.

James Mitchell,

Presumably, Pieter, this painting is not to be confused with either of the two listed in David Joel's book as at Culzean Castle. It definitely isn't his '26B' and the measurements do not correspond with his undescribed '234E'. To me it does look like Brooking, with some unhelpful, later re-working of the sky, as you suggest; he can be a bit weaker sometimes.

Archibald Kennedy's d.o.b (in New York) does not appear to be known but must predate 1736 given he was commissioned in 1744. Even allowing that he could by date have bought this from Brooking (d, 1759) it is perhaps unlikely given his known movements and that the ship shown is clearly not of a size on which he served. Odd too, if by Brooking, that there is no apparent mention by David Joel -though I can't think of another likely candidate.

Jamie Rountree,

My tuppence worth Pieter - from the image it doesn't quite look good enough to be by Brooking. Sea is stilted and sky is naive. As you and James say could be over restored, be interesting to see under UV. The set-up of ships is of course spot on for Brooking - perhaps someone following in his style ? Auction houses would catalogue as Circle/Follower of Brooking to be safe.

I agree: one can't go further than 'manner of' at present, and certainly mid-century rather than late, but that's at least an advance on 'British school'.

This short discussion has been open a long time. It would help to have a larger image to be sure whether Cliff Thornton's note that it appears to show a 50-gun ship in two positions is correct (I can't be sure how many it has on the broadside, even in the foreground vessel) before making any title adjustment suggestions.

It's certainly 'circle of' Charles Brooking at least and - just to throw a complete wild card in - I recently saw in the Getty Provenance index that in 1822/3 a 'Captain Nutt' sold at Christie's a Brooking of the 'Tavistock' (50 guns and only in commission 1747-58). This had almost certainly belonged to his father, Captain Justinian Nutt, on whom we still have outstanding business in identifying the artist of his and Mrs J Nutt's portraits. Nutt senior had commanded the 'Tavistock' when new and Nutt junior appears to have been disposing of paintings -that being the only maritime one - possibly inherited after the death of his deceased mother's second husband, Lt Charles Besson in 1822.

I have no idea if Brooking's 'Tavistock' is still independently known.

Marcie Doran,

Is this work possibly by John Cleveley the elder (c.1712–1777)? I have been looking at the large ship in the image that was recently provided and comparing it to his ships on Art UK. I think the flags, rigging and sails in the mystery work are very similar to those that he painted. I have attached two composites:

1. Based on this work and a work at the Southampton City Art Gallery, “HMS 'Brune' Captures French Ship 'L'oiseau'” (

2. Based on this work and a work at the Yale Center for British Art, “Launching at Deptford” (c. 1757) (

I am sure this is not Clevelely. It is very 'Brooking' in general manner and the issue is whether by him or an imitator. If it is, then it's not Brooking at his best in painting of sea or sky, but hard to tell how much that is 'ab initio' or possibly -especially in the sky - the result of possible later cleaning etc. The obvious question is why anyone trying to 'do a Brooking' would choose a composition like this, so my instinct is that there is a fair chance it is. No-one produces a masterpiece every time and Brooking's reported problem was that, unlike others (e.g. Scott) he found himself working through dealers no doubt pressing him to fill the orders they obtained, which presumably had some negative effect. It is really up to the NT to decide what they want to do here: 'circle of Brooking' would be better that 'British School' and safe. 'Attributed to Brooking' would be my inclination since that would at least provide a motivation for getting it into the conservation studio to see what its condition really is: there are lots of paintings on Art UK that 'attributed' to various people on less justification.

Pieter, if you would like to recommend that to Art UK (so that I receive the digital message) I'll relay it to the collection, although they may be following this quietly.

Thank you, Pieter.

A more accurate title would be 'Portrait of a Man-of-War at Sea', as Cliff noted at the start, subject to the collection's opinion and any further details you might suggest. A search for 'man-of-war' (with or without hyphens: Chambers hyphenates it; NMM has it both ways) brings up 98 records on Art UK.

As 'ship portraits' go its rather loose: it might be, as I've also speculated re: the 'Tavistock', but it's not clear the ship at far left is the same one, which is the usual convention (in two or three aspects - bow, broadside, stern). 'Sailing warships at sea, about 1750' would also cover it but whatever Art UK and NT think most useful.

Louis Musgrove,

I remember we had two Cleveleys on display in Ipswich-on loan from the RMG if I remember.Nice!
I have been looking at as many Brookings as I can find. I think Marcie has spotted something. Similar small details. On none of the Brookings are there the red boards on the Crosstrees that we have here. And in the examples she shows-- a similar fluttering shape to some of the flags.
Yes I think the Cleveleys are possible- given the gloomy skies-how about Robert Cleveley???

Even less Robert C. than John the elder, partly on painting style and partly on rig detail (lateen yards on the mizzen, especially on smaller ships had gone by the time he was mainly working). The limited presence in Brooking of 'top-armours' -as the red canvas screens used in naval vessels are called - is a neat observation but not invariable, as in the bomb-vessel at lower right here (and probably the flagship to left though hard to see)

and the frigate to right here

This is tonally about as close as one gets with John C. the elder and even then its more colourful, and more conventional as a 'ship portrait'

Please close on the basis suggested by my note of 30/09/2021 11:06, depending on the collection view of the artist options suggested there, but not remaining as just 'British school', plus their choice of upgraded title options down to my note of 18:43 on the same day.
I think that's the best we can do until a conservation studio look become possible and if done so within range (and my lifetime!) after Sarah Maisey joins the NT painting conservators from NMM later this year I'll try and have a direct look.