Ship with Big Cloud
Topic: Artist

The collection has no documentation associated with this painting.

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

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The artist record has been changed to ‘style of George Chambers I (1803–1840)’ and the title updated to ‘Dutch Sailing Vessels and a Steamer off a Coast with a Fortified Port'.

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.


Bruce Trewin,

Can anyone recognize the shorline scenery? Chambers often painted recognizable landmarks.

Martin Hopkinson,

A painting attributed to G Chambers
of Portsmouth Harbour was owned by J Staats Forbes and as no 171 in Brighton Public Art Galleries 1908 exhibition of pictures from the collection of the late J Staats Forbes

Sorry to be late picking this one up: I agree Portsmouth as likely location, though not sure what the spire at far left could be (apparently on the Gosport side). If it was Frederick Calvert it would be unusually good, but I don't think so. Chambers is more a man for Dutch boats -common in the Channel- and having one crossing (or something anchored) behind as shown more his way of doing things, though examples on Your Paintings are limited :

Its still not entirely convincing but in the right area and there are many attributions worse, for example

This I've never personally been convinced by: palette is broadly fine and similar to that under discussion, but everything else not good enough and the idea that it might just be 'early' doesn't really tie up either with the location or the apparently 1830s steamer.

Malcolm Fowles,

Pieter, assuming this is Portsmouth and Chambers is accurate, the steamer could be one of the Portsmouth-Ryde ferry fleet: PS Arrow (1825), PS Union (1825), PS Lord Yarborough (1826) and PS Lord Spencer (1833). Do you have images that discount the first three? If not, is 1825 early enough for early Chambers?

Malcolm Fowles,

All but one or two of Calvert's works on Art UK clearly have nothing to do with this artist. However one in particular has features in common, especially the treatment of the waves: diagonal composition, lines of foam on crests, treatment of spume; also the not-quite-right sails. See

In fact this is so different from other Calverts, and so much more like the present work, that one must ask whether it's own attribution is solid. Is there perhaps a third hand here?

The fact the ships came into service at those dates doesn't tie the picture to being that early and I'm really rather foxed at the moment for a definite artist, albeit in the Chambers area, but any time c.1825-40 would be fine for subject as far as I can see. I'm also not entirely sure its Portsmouth, and need a bigger detail of the background; but land to the left suggests not (for example) Calais, which also has prominent towers -though Fort Rouge is usually included in views of it at this time. If its Dutch boats off a Dutch shore then I'm stuck, but I think not.

I have asked the view of Alan Russett, who did the 1996 Antique Collectors Club monograph on Chambers. He replies:
'I would be quite comfortable with the attribution to George Chambers Snr. - it has so many of his characteristics. As to location, he painted many off Portsmouth but I do not recognise any immediate similarities. Both vessels being Dutch, I would think Holland more likely, where he spent time, although I am afraid I cannot suggest a location at present.'

I think that's at least reason enough provisionally to attribute it to Chambers senior (1803-40) and perhaps Plymouth could supply a better detail of the right background in due course to see if the location can be better identified: 'Dutch trading vessels off a coast' would be a better title but perhaps take a rain-check on that until 'where?' is clearer. The one in front appears to be a galliot: that behind perhaps a large boier.

Malcolm Fowles,

The Dutch coast has few places where the topography is right, with a port actually on the sea, and another shore beyond. But there is one, and it is the Dutch Portsmouth: Den Helder, looking across to the island of Texel. Few obvious paintings online but two are interesting.

One gives the church: The towers are missing.

The other gives towers and perhaps a lighthouse or lookout in the right order, but no church: [You can expand the image a lot.] The painting date requires an act of faith that 160 years later the scene would look more like ours.

Were it not for the church, I’d find Portsmouth more convincing, especially when adding the steamer into the balance.

I know Plymouth have been up to their eyes on a redevelopment project but could PCF add a request for an enlarged background detail of this to their existing Art Detective list for responses, when possible please?

Malcolm Fowles,

This 1825 map shows Den Helder as a different place to what it is now.

North is to the right. Den Helder and Texel are on the extreme right. Some smaller islands, and parts of Texel and its little companion Noordenhaaks, seem to have been swallowed by the sea, or maybe they were always only exposed at low tide.

Modern Den Helder is further E (bottom right). The old site is on the NW point, where one now finds the remains of the old fortifications, which would have included the towers. We are therefore looking NNW along the coast.

I withdraw my caveat about the steamer. Texel is and was very much inhabited, and the ferry from Den Helder is still the main means of access, running every half hour. So an early paddle steamer is no surprise, and its frequent passages would have been an essential part of any visitor's view.

Thanks but Den Helder was not a site of notable interest for British 19th-century artists and its certainly not mentioned in any account of Chambers. When painted earlier it also looks very different in terms of position and surroundings, and a much greater general concentration of shipping since it was at the entrance to the Zuyder Zee. Unless someone else - perhaps from the Netherlands who knows the ground there, or a Portsmouth hand who could account for the apparent church spire on the left (which is not in any other picture I can find) - really has something definitive to add, I think we should park this until Plymouth can produce the detail requested.

Malcolm Fowles,

Apologies, but one can see enough from the painting already. The seafront fortification comprises at least three distinct sections of wall. Behind these, the final tower, the church and the masts of a tall ship are roughly in line.

The walls appear consistent with the five-pointed star of the Napoleonic Fort Erfprins (built 1811-1813) at Den Helder. Google “Map Den Helder” to see its remains, especially striking in the satellite view. The seafront portion has gone now, but is complete on old maps such as (enlarge the view).

Similar walls appear on old maps of Portsmouth, e.g. They are not zigzagged along the shoreline, so I find it hard to match to distinct sections.

The Dutch map also shows a church beyond the fort, and the dock beyond that, both roughly in line from the end of the fort. They are a key difference from Portsmouth.

I’ve toured the Dutch coastline again. Nothing else comes close.

Parked now.

A Dutch marine colleague comments: 'Den Helder never had such an extensive skyline, certainly not when seen from the North Sea. I could not see any sharp details of the town and the coast in the background' He wondered about the Flemish coast and Dunkirk, but its certainly not the latter, so rather than set more hares running best wait for an enlargement.

Malcolm Fowles,

An interesting comment. It makes me wonder how they made these stormy scenes. Probably not Turner's 'Lash me to the mast, sir!' Perhaps dry land for the background, and clambering around a boatyard with sketchbook at a jaunty angle for the boats. Is the reality recorded?

In this case, the view would be from Noordenhaaks or the very southern tip of Texel. Just beyond the town is the NE point of the peninsula, and a steam ferry is in the right place.

The bearing from Texel would be about 110° to make Wieringen the left-hand background at a sensible distance. From Noordenhaaks the bearing would be less, making Friesland the background, nearly 50 km distant! So Texel it is.

I think it will be a bit of a challenge to find an alternative that fits so many elements so well. Good luck.

If I'm right, what says this has to be a British artist? One of the Schotels? Koekkoek?

Koekkoek and the Schotels are even more polished, and tend to be bluer / greyer in the seas,so I suspect probably not, but some of the 19th c. Dutch were very good in this line and general manner though its not an area in which I know the wider who's who. Its certainly hand rather than location for which we need convincing parallels and it doesn't help that Chambers is very variable, though the palette is about right.

Edward Stone,

I have emailed the collection to request permission to post a high resolution detail of this painting and will pass on any response.

The background looks like Portsmouth to me, or at least the elements of it though looking a bit odd -perhaps from rather westward: right to left, St Thomas's (now the cathedral) and Semaphore Tower, and ?Round Tower -but I don't recognise the spire (something no longer there?). Local knowledge please....

Louis Musgrove,

Er- the flag on the big boat- it's actually the Yugoslavian flag ! Or it could be a Dutch vessel flying the dutch tricolor upside down to indicate the vessel is in distress.But the foremast pennant would thus be wrong-Hmn!!!--- especially as Yugoslavia only came into existance a hundred years ago !!!! Anyone got a book of naval Flags in use 1840's ??? The enlargement photo of the fortifications -- they look rather non english perhaps??? And the sailors on the big boat aren't dressed in an english or dutch way perhaps???
Or could it be a fairly modern "Homage" to a Georgian/Victorian maritime painting??

The flag inversion is curious but I suspect just an error or something obscure other than distress: the boats are both Dutch, the main one a galliot or 'koff' with what looks like a raffee (triangular) topsail above the mainsail but below the fore-topsail, which is an unusual place to see one. I'm sticking (cf. Alan Russett above at 21. 2. 17) with 'attribution to Chambers senior' as most likely option so far but I'm less convinced its Portsmouth unless a miniaturized recollection of bit not adding up to a whole.

While I'm still thinking 'recollection of Portsmouth' I also recalled the towers of Calais as shown here (c. 1836),

though don't think that fits, even as a 'recollection' both since Calais did not have a fortified waterfront but did have harbour piers and Fort Rouge, both lacking in the painting. The fort had a long life (1695-1864) so even if the painting is not by Chambers (d.1840) it still doesn't fit. On the whole it also looks more English coast than French or Dutch.

This picture is one of 'my lot' as subject co-ordinator among what seems quite long list of 'other topics' that could usefully be wound up as at least interim solutions rather than just hanging around open-ended, in some cases for several years.

Before doing so, however, it would be useful to have any further evidence-based comments on the location as shown in the excellent 'coastline' detail that Marion supplied on 10 May above.

Though Portsmouth was my first impression - or at least reminiscent of Portsmouth - the overall town scale is too small, there is no indication of Gosport (and especially the distinctive Blockhouse fort west of the apparent harbour entrance), there aren't enough ships shown in the harbour -i.e. it too looks too small- and details are wrong (ie the church spire to left) or in odd order for Portsmouth.

It might, perhaps, be a capriccio/memory based on Portsmouth, and the steamer would fit either as an IoW ferry or a cross-Channel one (though not from Portsmouth in the latter case). To me, at least, it doesn't look like Holland or France, and (if by Chambers) the fact the sailing craft shown are Dutch types is not unusual of his English south-coast views, so would not be if it is by someone else deliberately emulating him. If there's really nothing to add then my suggestion is that it is 'attributed to George Chambers senior'
with a better title such as 'Dutch sailing vessels [and a steamer?] off a coastline and fortified port' - or some such variant as the collection sees fit but better than the current one for search purposes.

I suggest that the fortified port was intended as Portsmouth but painted without the benefit of first-hand experience on the part of the artist. It seems to derive –- albeit with a degree of liberal interpretation -- from elements in one or both of Turner’s watercolour views of Portsmouth from the sea, well-known through engravings:

‘Portsmouth, Hampshire’, 1825, published in ‘Picturesque Views of the Southern Coast of England’ (1814-26)

‘Portsmouth’, 1828, published in ‘The Ports of England’ (1826-28)

These two sets of prints would have been readily raided for reference imagery by marine artists working in the second quarter of the nineteenth century.

Our view is perhaps closer to the 1825 print, while conflating elements from both. In any case, the artist has selected only (what I take to be) the eastern part of the town, minimising the shipping in the port itself. In the Turners at the extreme right we can see St Thomas’s church (now cathedral), which appears also to the right in our picture, and towers to the left of it which were probably the origin of the two similarly placed in our work, with the ordering and distancing of all three buildings freely interpreted. The spired structure on the left in our picture is not so easily explained but could be an exaggeration of one of the other buildings appearing in the two prints.

Martin Hopkinson,

If Richard's suggestion is correct, as it probably is, this suggests that the painting is not by a member of the Chambers family

Jacinto Regalado,

It might be safer to call this "style of" George Chambers Sr as opposed to attributing the picture to him.

I am inclined to agree: it's a case of 'could be' in terms of manner but with too many current uncertainties of content even for secure attribution, from the apparently upside-down Dutch flags to the unidentifiable Portsmouth-like-but-unconvincingly-so background. I think it's probably British, if only because one would not expect a Dutch artist to get their own flag wrong and it does not look like a Dutch coast (or French, at least at any point one would expect a steam Channel ferry to be emerging given its no more convincing as Calais than Portsmouth).

For artist I suggest 'follower of/ imitator of/ style of George Chambers' [1803-40], as the collection prefers.

The title should certainly change to something like that already suggested: i.e. 'Dutch sailing vessels and a steamer off a coastline and fortified port', if only because there are far more useful search terms there than in 'Ship with a big cloud'. Technically the only 'ships' visible are the one or two whose masts are distantly visible in the harbour. The principal vessel is brigantine-rigged and apparently a Dutch koff.

This topic is also in my group as George Chambers Senior was born in Whitby. After six years it is unlikely that the discussion could go much further and this seems an appropriate moment to bring it to a close.

With thanks to all who have posted contributions here and to Alan Russett whose thoughts have been relayed by Pieter, the question posed in the heading has been thoughtfully addressed and answered. The painting is close in style to that of George Chambers Senior but not of sufficient quality to be regarded as definitely by him or even to be recorded as 'attributed to' him. Chamber Senior is usually more precise in the topographical detail of his settings -- a quality distinctly lacking here. In fact it has proved impossible to establish whether the background detail is anything other than artistic invention. I propose 'Style of George Chambers (1803-1840)' as the recommendation, this being slightly less restrictive than 'follower of' or 'imitator of', with the title 'Dutch sailing vessels and a steamer off a coast with a fortified port'.

I am content with that too. Thanks Richard, and to everyone who has contributed: further ideas may appear as and when something similar but better documented turns up.