Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Maritime Subjects, South West England: Artists and Subjects 28 Is this really the work of Nicholas Pocock?

East Indiaman Dutton Wrecked in Plymouth Sound
Topic: Artist

This painting looks like a greyer-toned version of Thomas Luny's treatment of the same subject in 1821, near identical in composition.

Although this painting is earlier, dated 1811, Luny often repeated scenes with slightly different staffage, which is the main element of difference in the content. The incident itself occurred in 1796.

The collection comment: 'This painting was acquired from an art dealership in the 1970s as a Pocock. We have received no other information to indicate that it could be by another hand, although we are always interested to record opinions on other possible attributions.'

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

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The attribution to Nicolas Pocock is unchanged. An account of different versions of this work now accompanies the image on Art UK and a list of Pocock/Luny versions can be downloaded from the discussion (Pieter van der Merwe comment 8/2/24, 14:54).

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,

Please can Plymouth check the date on their work. Could it possiboly be 1821 instead of 1811?
In several decades of painting, Luny records selling only two works depicting the "Loss of the Dutton", and both were in 1821. This might also account for the similarity of the two paintings.

Jamie Rountree,

We sold this Pocock of HMS Crocodile shipwrecked off Prawle Point. Might be useful for a comparison in palette and style.

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Tim Williams,

Curious though how both oils show an extra mast lower right. Certainly the date should be checked on the Plymouth picture, I suspect a signature is next to is as well.

The work is signed at the lower left - 'The Dutton East Ind- Ship Wreck'd/ at Plymouth/ 180 (?)/ 600 souls rescued/ N.Pocock/ Pinxit 1811.

Engravings were published by Pollard (see Tim Williams' post above - thank you for this) and also Day and Haghe. The Pollard engraving gives a publishing date of 1796. This either means that Pocock had to have painted the oil earlier than 1811, or that the publishers have back-dated the date to that of the ship wreck.

I would suggest the latter as the provenance for Plymouth's painting (and teh 1811 inscription) is strong - by descent through family from Edward Pellew (1757-1833) whose leadership and bravery saved the crew of the Dutton from the wreck. He recieved the freedom of the city of Plymouth and was created a baronet as a result. (Incidently, an eye witness account of the wreck and Pellew's actions are described by Samuel Northcote in a letter to his brother, the artist James Northcote, in 1796.)

I should have spotted that print - not least since we have it!- but when you compare the images it's fairly clear that the Plymouth oil is not the original of it and in my opinion the style is Luny, not Pocock - who as the print shows (be it from an oil -even though now unknown- or a drawing) was a generally more sophisticated hand. Given the existence of the plate one can see why -if lacking a signature and inscribed date - the Plymouth canvas has been ascribed to him and dated 1811. If it does have an incontrovertible Pocock signature on it then I'm wrong, and have learnt something new about him. But if not then the one knot still to untangle is the issue of dimensions, since Luny did a lot of 'Duttons', none in 1811 and only starting in 1821 - which was the year Pocock died, having stopped working about 1817/18 from a stroke. When Luny did copies from other artists, usually from older masters like Vernet, he fairly often made a note of it in the payments and details ledger he kept from 1807 to his death in 1837 - of which we (NMM) have a photocopy and patrons/ subject/sizes transcript, though unfortunately no note of where the original now is. I have seen in passing one mention in the transcript of something from a print of Pocock's but not this subject: however, given the latter died in the year Luny started painting it, the fact he omitted his source is not significant since the ledger is not consistent.

Remembering that the Plymouth canvas's stated dimensions are 62 x 94 cm (= 24 x 36 in) the first Luny version, in October 1821, was one of four pictures for Thomas Farrant of Great Poultney Street, Bath - who, from their varying sizes and subjects, I suspect may have been a dealer/ frame maker buying them for resale. This one (for which he was paid 15 guineas) measured 24 x 30 inches / 62 x 77cm. The second, in November 1821, was for Lord Exmouth - i.e. Sir Edward Pellew, the hero of the 'Dutton' incident in 1796: the size is given as 20 x 27 inches/ 51 x 69 cm (6 guineas). In November 1830 he repeated the subject as one of another four pictures, this time all the same size (24 x 34 in/ 62 x 86 cm) for Albany Saville of Okehampton, the 'Dutton' and one of Napoleon held on HMS 'Bellerophon' being charged at 12 guineas, and the other pair at eight. In October 1832 he did another 'Picture of the Dutton' (presumably her wreck) for a Mr Phipps ( again 24 x 34 in: 62 x 86 cm); then two more in September 1834: the first of these was for Exmouth's son, Captain Fleetwood Pellew (30 x 42 in /77 x 112 cm) at 20 gns and is the one in the NMM: the second called 'Loss of the Dutton' for 'Mr. Dick, Cavendish Square, London' in September 1834 was another standard 20 x 30 at 12 gns. Another of these was sold to 'Mr Harris, carver & gilder Swansea' in March 1835 - almost certainly the marine painter James Harris of Swansea or someone related to him. This was the last.

The heights of some of these seem to fit rather than the width, 86 cm being the closest to 94 cm. It doesn't obviously look as though its lost width but can the discrepancy be explained one way or another?

Thanks for the Plymouth update, which just anticipated mine: I am very surprised and still puzzled, but the fact it is a post 1796 version (that being date of the plate - my other slip) at least explains the differences. Can a higher resolution image and detail of the inscription be made available?

Felicity Herring,

Surely the grey picture is another version by Luny, it is so close to the original (except for one figure in the foreground) that Pocock would have had to have the original to hand for quite some time and the other question to ask is Why would he produce is own version so similar to Luny's. He was quite capable of devising his own picture of the wrecking of the Dutton.

It's because it looks like Luny that it needsa a closer look to see if the inscription might be an erroneous later addition: Pocock signed and dated works but he did not usually write descriptive 'labels' on them and the '180?'(for example) is obviously not the date of the incident.

This painting has been inaccesible for a while owing to our work in the stores in preparation for a collections decant. Now that we have access, here are some shots of the inscription which appears in the lower left corner of the painting as viewed. Apologies for the poor quality; these were taken through the glazing.

Thanks very much for these. This is going to take some further signature comparisons. The 'N Pocock' is very like his, but the rest of the inscription is not his hand and its all in the same black with a (wrong) incomplete date for the incident (the 180...).

The style of the painting -and the fact there are so many Luny versions- suggests Luny, but there are one or two Pococks with seas like that, though nothing so stormy or crowded with people:

So its for resolution whether (a) it is a Pocock original, first copied by Luny in 1821 (though where -with the Pellews?), but very unlike the other Pocock version of 1796 of which a print was made that year, or
(b) a Luny with a fairly well-imitated Pocock signature and (for either of them a uniquely explanatory but inaccurate additional inscription in another hand and, perhaps, a false date.

Looking at other Pocock storms and rough seas, as below, I'm still inclined to Luny but the case remains open:

Dominic Sanchez-Cabello,

Isn't Luny recorded as having painted the Indiaman Dutton at least 7 times in his career? Each time varying the composotion and quality depending on the status of the patron. In my opinion, humble as it is, the water has far more similarities to Luny than it does Pocock. As does the subdued paint palate; Pocock's palate tends to be sharper and more vibrant. He also has a tendency to paint with a lot more detail - perhaps a consequence of being a painter of the Joshua Reynolds era.

Furthermore, no doubt it has been mentioned here, but both Pellew and Luny lived in Teignmouth during their later years. Their houses are within 200 feet of each other. The Royal Museum Greenwich records that "Luny - well into the 1830s - painted a number of works illustrating incidents in Pellew's career, and other subjects, both for him and other members of his family."

On another note, Mr Van der Merwe: do you have any idea if Thomas Luny's Ledger names any of these incidents aside from the 'wreck of the Dutton'? Because recently a pair of oils concerning Pellew, one of HMS Indefatigable capturing Virginie, another of Indiaman Dutton, sold at Eldred's Auction House of Plymouth, just over a year ago. Curiously the original of Indefatigable/Virginie, painted by Nicholas Pocock, resides in the Mariners Museum of Virginia and can be found here:

Both of these events occured in january and april of 1796; in both cases Pellew was the protagonist. Not exactly sure what this illustrates, aside from that both Pocock and Luny used Pellew for their inspiration.

Thanks for previous, inc . ref. to Mariners Museum picture. I have listed the Luny versions of the 'Dutton' incident already above (from his ledger list), of which the first was done in 1821. He painted various other things for Pellew and his family over a long period, Pellew being both the local grandee at Teignmouth, as well as a naval officer who wanted such things and had the man to do them on his doorstep. The question here is simply whether the present picture is by Luny or (as its 1811 signature inscription implies) an earlier Pocock which he copied. I raised he matter because it certainly looks more like Luny in style, given we (NMM/RMG) have a larger version reportedly the one done for Pellew's son, and that a 1796 print after Pocock which has been cited in the discussion above shows that his rendering of that date -the year of the incident- is considerably different. If that's the case the signature is a false one but if so its form is sufficiently well copied to leave the matter in some doubt at present, though I can't recall either Pocock signature in pure black, nor one with the accompanying text included here (also in black buy not in his normal writing hand). Thus, jury still out.

Dominic Sanchez-Cabello,

Yeah, apologies, I did meander, but I think we can reasonably consider ‘The Capture of La Virginie’ and the Wreck of the ‘Indiaman Dutton’ as loosely being a pair: both occurring in 1796, both launching Pellew to national fame. The question of course is whether this painting is by Pocock or Luny; I couldn’t comment on the inscription, or with any real authority on the differences in style between the two.

I do think it’s a shame that information on the Pocock in Virginia is so sparse, as it could hold the key: what similarities, if any, does it have to the painting here in Plymouth? How it is signed? Etc. The painting in Virginia was painted in 1797, freshly after the event took place. The Pocock here is signed ‘1811.’ To me it would seem strange that Pocock waited 14 years and then painted the Indiaman Dutton.

Additionally, I recall that Luny was remarkably prolific, painting around 3000 paintings in his career - a painting every 5 days on average. The ledger interests me, where might I find it?

I do not at present know if the 1796 Pocock of the loss of the 'Dutton', from which a print was made that year, was an oil or a watercolour -or if it is now known. Whether an oil may only be quickly apparent if it was exhibited and is in one of the relevant lists like Graves RA exhibitors -but I've not yet looked. If an oil one would also need to know the size to even begin to consider it a pair with the Virginia picture, and that is unlikely to be in lists of that period (only Graves's British Institution list,from 1806, includes sizes, and then of original frames, not canvases). I see no close similarity between the Virginia image and this 'Luny'-type 'Dutton' image dated 1811, but if it is Luny the date is probably false since there is no record in his ledger (which starts in 1807) of himdoing one in that year. We (NMM Greenwich) have a xerox copy of the ledger- which was made more than 40 years ago to best of my knowledge -but, unfortunately, where it came from is not now clear or where the original now is. If anyone knows, please say!

Dominic Sanchez-Cabello,

Sorry, that was unclear: I am convinced we can interpret the events (not the paintings) as being mutually significant. Both were the making of Pellew: ‘Dutton’ for his civic status, ‘Virginie’ for his naval career.

Many things suggest to me that the ‘Dutton’ in Plymouth is by Luny, style, subject, palate etc. I can say little of worth in this regard, but what seems plain to me, is that it is unlikely for Pocock to paint ‘the capture of Virginie’ a year after the event took place, and then wait 14 years to finally paint the ‘Dutton’ in 1811, after having produced an engraving on the same subject in 1796. Seemingly this bolsters the argument that the ‘Pocock… pinxit 1811’ is dodgy. Then we have the established and fruitful link between Pellew and Luny; to my knowledge we know of no such link between Pocock and Pellew.

Also that it bears few similarities to the painting in Virginia is significant, as one would assume that Pocock might maintain a measure of consistency when painting incidents concerning Pellew. Do we know if Pocock painted any other events in Pellew’s life for example?

What would seem most likely to me is that Luny found much to admire in the works of Nicholas Pocock - 19 years older than he and the foremost marine artist of the day.

The National Maritime Museum have published extensive entries on both their Luny oil painting of this subject (object ID: BHC3298) and the aquatint and etching (PAH8439). The Plymouth oil, subject of this discussion, is discussed towards the end of both entries.

I suggest "Attributed to Luny" is the best solution for Plymouth's painting, and that it is not by Pocock.

Thanks for the prompt on this Sheena, which has been hanging fire in the pious hope I might get into the NMM store with a decent image of the Plymouth canvas.

Just reverting to the images sent by Plymouth (3. 7. 2015), the 'N. Pocock' is very like the signatures one sees on his work (inc. watercolours) though I have never seen a Pocock oil with such an extensive inscription and in a rounder hand than his usual MS. These are aspects which have given me pause, but the painting is definitely 'Luny' style rather than 'Pocock' -albeit the composition is derived from the latter's 1796 print as explained in (my) NMM catalogue entries. On balance I think you are right: at least an attribution to Luny is more likely to be right than a statement that it is definitely Pocock, despite the various puzzles over size in relation to recorded versions by Luny and the as yet unexplained 1811 dating. So I agree with the recommendation for the time being, but its up to the collection in the end.

Jacob Simon,

This discussion is seven years old. I think its resolution lies with Pieter and access to the NMM store (post, 11/05/2021).

Short of seeing this painting, it remains a puzzle - at least for me.
The only thing I am sure of is that it is not the Pocock version that was published as a print in 1796, eight months after the incident, since many details differ.

If, as the signature says, it is a later Pocock version painted in 1811, the inscription suggests he had by then forgotten when the wreck occurred (which it gives as '180..') - both odd in itself and if done for Edward Pellew (Viscount Exmouth, 1757-1833) who was hero of the event and from whom it reportedly derives - though without any firm evidence so far produced for that.

This, however, could be be explained by the inscription not being by the same hand as the signature. I have never seen any other such description on a Pocock oil, and it seems to be written in a rather rounder script than the signature, which looks credible despite some wear.

This is a Pocock of 1803 in similar palette - and a more polished painting:

This is one also of 1811 with a good comparable signature and date 'N Pocock 1811' at lower left, in his more usual mode (one line and no 'Pinxit'):

The two versions we know by Luny are these, and he is only recorded (by himself) as painting the subject from 1821 onwards: the first is dated 1821 and the second with a note on the back saying 1835. Neither match the dimensions given by Luny for pictures of the subject he painted in either of those years.

The coloration of both the Lunys is more towards yellow/brown than blue/grey and the general drawing rather harder. One can also go through all the other Lunys on Art UK without finding comparably better parallels to those by Pocock.

Though rather against my instincts, such evidence as there is therefore seems to favour leaving the Pocock attribution in place, though perhaps with an element of doubt. I would be much happier with it if there was a provenance paper-trail in support. If it was commissioned by Pellew about 1810-11, Pocock would certainly have been the 'go-to' man then to do a (for that time) rather uncharacteristic replica of his own earlier print but given there is no evidence of Luny tackling it until ten years later -and I don't see anyone else involved - that's what we have.

Pellew certainly also had a later small copy by Luny, but perhaps as a gift for someone else, and his son also seems to have had a large Luny one (perhaps that now in NMM from the dimensions, though the painting date of 1821 and purchase date of 1834 do not match).

Given that there is no other known record from the Pocock side, the only thing that would put the matter entirely out of doubt is an inventory or sale record tying the current picture to the Pellews, probably at (or ex-) Powderham Castle, but until then things are probably best left as they are.

'More information' might usefully include a note on the following lines:

'This subject first appeared as a print after Pocock published in 1796, of which this version signed and dated 1811 seems to be a copy with differing details by him. From 1821 to 1834 Thomas Luny painted seven other versions, probably all based on Pocock's print, athough only two have so far been sighted. The one in public hands is National Maritime Museum BHC3298 which, though dated 1821, is larger than than both those Luny recorded as doing that year. The present picture reputedly belonged to Edward Pellew (Viscount Exmouth, 1757-1833) who was instrumental in life-saving from the 'Dutton' wreck, but he also bought a small copy (24 x 30 in./62 x 77 cm) from Luny in November 1821. His son Captain Fleetwood Pellew also bought a larger one (30 x 42 in./77 x 112 cm) in September 1834. The latter may be NMM3298, but if so it was either back-dated to 1821 or had been held by Luny as a studio copy since then.'

I attach a reference list of 'what we know' and unless anyone has anything further to add ( i.e. evidence-wise) I suggest we close the matter.

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