Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Maritime Subjects, Scotland: Artists and Subjects, South East England: Artists and Subjects 50 Who painted ‘Departure of the ‘Mayflower’, 1620’?

Topic: Artist

Who is the artist? I have seen a copy of this picture on display in the Mercure Hotel in Abbotts Langley Hertfordshire on the staircase in the mansion house part of the hotel when it was run by DeVeere Hotels.

Joe Teahan, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The artist has not been identified.

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.


The Collection have commented: ‘’The Departure of the Mayflower 1620, by an unknown artist, oil on canvas, 965 x 1165 was a gift to Southampton City Council in 1931 by Councillor G Walker. No information on the painting/artist was recorded.'

Jacinto Regalado,

It looks like a relatively naïve 19th century picture with 19th century figures rather than early 17th century ones.

William Milburn,

I think it possible this is the return to England from Cape Cod. Could it be an Americand hand that painted it.

Laurence Hartwell,

Given the direction she is sailing - into the sun - is it dawn or dusk? Might be some sort of clue as to the place of departure.

Kieran Owens,

The painting was donated by Councillor George Albert Waller (and not Walker), a solicitor in Southampton. The Hampshire Advertiser, of Saturday 2nd September 1933, carried the following:

"The following pictures have been presented to the town: ....'The Departure of the Mayflower 1620' (Presented by Councillor Waller, 1931)."

Waller was elected Mayor of Southampton in 1934. Born in 1877, he died at Southampton General Hospital on the 1st July 1953. His home address was 7 & 8, Albion Place, Southampton. His estate was valued for probate at £97,734/19/08 (equivalent to £2,323,893 today.).

I think William raises an interesting point in regard to the place of departure of Mayflower (assuming that the painting is in fact a depiction of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims). Plymouth, Devon, has a large natural harbour and although there some rocky coves along the coast, would the Pilgrims have set off from a rocky cove when another safer harbour was nearby? The ship left England on 16th September 1620 with about 102 passengers and about 37 crew plus the captain. Mayflower left New England on 5th April 1621 returning to Plymouth a month or so later. The Mayflower had been in what is now Provincetown Harbor (New England) over winter, which I think is sheltered from the sea and without cliffs. So I am not convinced that this painting accurately depicts Mayflower either in Devon or in Provincetown.

I do wonder whether Lou Taylor could assist in identifying whether or not the dress of the figures depicted dates to the first quarter of the 17th Century? This might help in establishing whether or not our artist has copied a known painting of a work from that earlier period or if, as is possible, the work was never intended to be of the Mayflower subject and that an inaccurate title has been attached to it over time. I agree with Jacinto that the painting is unlikely to be from the 17th century and that in all probability it is from the 19th century.

Finally, is that another ship I see in the distance (south east of the sun)?

Dave Evans,

I'm in agreement with Jacinta that it seems to show a scene from the 19th century rather than the 17th. Might it be intended to depict contemporary emigration to America, possibly from Ireland, and would it be worth considering an Irish artist?

Jacinto Regalado,

I expect the scene depicts a departure by emigrants and focuses on the family and friends left behind, but it could depict Irish or Scottish emigration. What can be said about the ship in terms of date?

I think the dress looks at early/ mid 19th. There seems to be a man with a round, narrow-brimmed hat, high collar and black tie/cravat (second from right standing) and the bonnet-wearing 'granny' seated in front of him doesn't look early 17th c.

The ship is presumably in stern view and, though it is hard to make out, does not look as though it has the sort of high 17th-century stern I would expect even in a non-maritime artist to attempt in representing the 'Mayflower'. Emigrant departure of a later date sounds more plausible but can we get better images?

Kieran Owens,

As the taller mainmast and the back of its sails appear to be fully visible and the distant lower foremast is obscured by them, this must be a stern view. If it is the Mayflower then, given the sun's low height over the horizon, it is unlikely to be the ship leaving the directly south-facing Plymouth harbour. Equally, it is unlikely to be a morning scene, with the sun rising in east, at Provincetown Harbour, where they set anchor on November 21st 1620, as it sits within the curling arm of a large landmass through with there would be no sea view eastwards. Also, the clothes worn by the people in the painting bear no resemblance to the traditionally depicted ones of the Pilgrim travellers, with none of the men shown wearing a single distinctive white ruff or tall felt hat, and none of the women shown wearing their distinctive coif headdress, waistcoat, petticoat or white apron. So either the painter had no knowledge of the geographies of the Mayflower's departure or arrival scene on either coast nor of the accepted style of Pilgrim garments, and is, therefore, an inaccurate fabrication, or this is not a scene that relates to the Mayflower at all, but, as supposed above, is a likely emigration scene from the west of somewhere in the UK or in Ireland, assuming that the ship is heading for America.

Jacinto Regalado,

The hair of the seated woman at the far left of the group looks early Victorian. Could this be a ship leaving Southampton, which was used for military embarkation, including the Crimean War?

Tamsyn Taylor,

The hair on that seated woman was fashionable around 1840.

Marcie Doran,

Perhaps this won’t be helpful, but here is a link to a painting, possibly by Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841), that is on the website of an online antique store, Antiques Atlas.

The painting is early Victorian and it depicts an elderly woman in a white (and black) bonnet. She is similar to the elderly ‘seated woman’. in the Art UK work. I flipped one of the antique store photos and prepared the attached composite.

I took a look at Wilkie’s paintings online and many if them include groups of people and there is often a dog, too.

Louis Musgrove,

I think we might be looking at Arthur Wellington Fowles here.Again. --I refer to a painting of the Mayflower also in Southampton Gallery-which seems to have dissapeared from Art Uk,but here it is on the Visit Southampton page as a topper. Similar style and sort of subject to the one under discussion here.

Osmund Bullock, it isn't, nor can I find it anywhere on the Visit Southampton website. Do please check that your links or attachments (I don't know which you tried to give us) work or have uploaded successfully.

Louis Musgrove,

Ah yes-that works for me-as you can see it is supposed to be in the Southampton City Art Gallery-but I cannot find it in their listings.Anyway I think Fowles is a possibility for our painting here-similar sky colours etc.Perhaps he did several others on this theme???

Thank you Louis. What I hadn't twigged before was that the Mayflower had berthed in Southampton to pick up pilgrims for the journey to America before it docked in Plymouth, Devon. That provides a good reason why in 1931 Councillor G. Walker presented the painting to Southampton City Art Gallery assuming, of course, that he understood the painting to be of the Mayflower. I am not that familiar with the work of Arthur Wellington Fowles but I thought he specialised in relatively contemporary maritime subjects (circa 1850 to 1880), such as the sinking of HMS Eurydice in 1878. Pieter may be able to help us with this but my feeling is, in common with others on this discussion, that this work is likely to date to the mid 19th century, artist presently unknown.

Jacinto Regalado,

I doubt our picture is by a maritime painter, as its focus is on the figures on shore (unless it was a collaborative effort between two different painters).

S. Elin Jones,

Would it be at all possible to have a close up of the group of people please?
Thanks very much

Kieran Owens,

Where in or near Southampton would one find such a precipitous cliff face as the one depicted in this painting? Also, what do contributors make of the large red colouring between the shoreline and the main vessel? Are these flames? If so, perhaps the scene shows some specific incident such as the burning of some ship.

It is documented that on 15th August 1620 two ships departed from Southampton on their journey to America namely 'Mayflower' and 'Speedwell'. I can't find specific confirmation of the exact point of departure but it appears to have been West Quay. My recollection of West Quay is that it doesn't have a cliff face similar to that shown in this painting. Perhaps the artist has included a cliff to add a sense of drama to the subject? It appears to me that there is a ship on the horizon which if correct would be intended to be the Speedwell. In regard to Kieran's point about the red colouring I thought this may be reflections from the sun across the water but not painted with much assurance.

Jacinto Regalado,

The figures are clearly in 19th century dress, meaning Victorian, so it if this was intended to depict a 1620 event, the artist was glaringly anachronistic (which is possible but seems unlikely).

I'm afraid the ship detail in the 'sunset' extract above is still so unclear as to add nothing. That the yards appear (I think) behind the masts suggest it is heading into the sunset but nothing can be derived from the hull form below. I'm not sure where A.W.Fowles entered the fray but he can leave it again. It doesn't look at all like him even in his 'cod-history' mode on which we have another still open discussion relating to the delovery of CHarles II's charter to Newport, I.o.W.

I suspect the title here is a red-herring: i.e. wish-fulfilment that it relates to the 'Mayflower' but more likely a departure of 19th century emigrants owing to agricultural depression, enclosures etc, though not obviously from either Scotland or Ireland as usual suspects in terms of cause.

Marcie Doran,

The attached download from ‘Graphic’ of September 4, 1920, shows a work by an artist named Gribble. He is likely Bernard Finnigan Gribble (1872–1962). His work shows a cliff like the one in the Art UK work and the text (sadly cut off) below the picture states “Mr. Gribble’s fine picture shows the Mayflower when lea[ving] Cattewater and rounding Fisher’s Nose, otherwise Lamblay [...] the Sound.” I think the Art UK work depicts the departure of the ships (Mayflower, Speedwell) from England and the people onshore are the sad friends and family members of the people on the two ships (see the comment by Jacinto Regalado, 25/09/2021 13:35).

Kieran Owens,

Well done Marcie for finding that image.

If this is as the Graphic describes in its article (on the Cattewater, rounding Fisher's Nose), then the Mayflower would be roughly where the ship that is circled in red is located on the 1643 map in the attached composite. The cliff face could be the exaggerated side of St. Nicholas' Island (aka Drake Island).

It could also, of course, be the artist's highly subjective and stylised version of an otherwise exacting topographical scene.

Jacinto Regalado,

Gribble's figures, at least the women, are dressed as one would expect for a Mayflower scene. Ours are certainly not.

Kieran Owens,

One of the reasons for believing that this is not a scene depicting the departure of the Mayflower is that the old gentleman who is leaning on the stick appears to be holding, in his left hand, a Tam O'Shanter, with its red toorie facing outwards, suggesting that this painting might be more associated with Highland clearances and the emigration that followed. His attire is not too dissimilar to that as painted by Henry Wright Kerr in the attached portrait. If the gentleman was a laird, albeit a lowly one, it might also explain the finer dress of the others in the scene, compared to the pathetic rags that are usually depicted in Irish emigration scenes following the famine tragedy of the mid-1840s.

The group's clothing is more reminiscent of Scottish or Irish people, rather than English, Welsh or Cornish ones. The style of the bonnet on the old lady might also help in determining the national identity of this rather melancholy party.

Kieran Owens,

The young man in brown in the back also appears to be wearing a Tam O'Shanter, sloping off to his right shoulder.

Martin Hopkinson,

Has the costume been looked at by a specialist? As Kieran notes , it could be Scottish ? And its date ? post 1840 with a Presbyterian minister the most prominent figure

Marcie Doran,

I created a composite from an extract of this work and an extract from the discussion below this one - ‘Musical Union’ by Arthur Fitzpatrick (1830–1883). Does anyone else think the child’s striped dress in this work matches the shirt of the boy on the right in ‘Musical Union’? Her brown hat is quite similar to the one worn by the boy in the middle of that work.

Jacinto Regalado,

The picture makes much more sense as the departure of Scottish emigrants than that of the Mayflower, with the focus on those they left behind. The hand is obviously provincial, and there may have been two different hands, one for the figures and another for the rest.

Kieran Owens,

Other paintings worth considering are:

Nicholas Chevalier's "Seeking Fortune", whose subject wears a cap similar to the young man in brown in this discussion's work, as referenced above:

Erskine Nichol's "A Willing Pupil"

Erskine Nichol's "Removing The Skelf" for the bonnet and the child's attire:ünstler/erskine-nicol/removing-the-skelf-IkK20SstonJjbZmZTNT71A2

Jacinto Regalado,

Frankly, the picture is much more interesting as what it most probably is than as what it is purported to be. Despite the relatively primitive or naive handling, it is well conceived and not without poignancy.

Kieran Owens,

A print at the Tate, by William Daniell, entitled "Portree, Isle of Skye" makes for an interesting comparison to the landscape depicted here:

If this was Portree, which is located on the eastern side of the Isle of Skye, this scene would be occurring at dawn (as there is no stretch of water over which the sun could be setting to the west), which might make more sense as I wonder how many ships would have departed at dusk with night skies ahead for six or more hours. Captains of ships would surely have preferred to depart at dawn so as to allow for maximum daylight for navigating their way to the open ocean.

I do accept that there is no landmass visible on the horizon of this painting, so likely not to be Portree, but the Tate's print shows a similarity of topography that might more suggest Scotland than the eastern or southern coast of England.

If this is a dawn scene, the painting could also hold a subtle message - "Red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning", suggesting trouble ahead of rough weather/life challenges for the emigrating passengers. Hence, perhaps, the look of sadness and fear on the faces of the shore-bound group.

It would seem, also, that this group is missing one character, the husband and father of the woman and children to the front of the group, who could also have been the son to the older couple and brother or cousin to those standing in the background. Perhaps he is setting out ahead of the others, to make ready for their subsequent voyage.

The red-headed gentleman on the right side of the canvas appears to be a minister of some church (possibly Presbyterian or Lutheran), as he seems to be wearing white preaching bands, although whether these would be worn outside a chapel or church perhaps is best explained by some more knowledgeable contributor:{LPARENTHESES} neckwear)

Kieran Owens,

I wonder if any Scottish families departed from Plymouth on the Mayflower in the 1620s?

Jacinto Regalado,

Pieter, as best it can be determined from the image, could the ship be 19th century, since the costumes certainly are?

I’ve recently taken over this group from Grant so am looking at the current discussions. There have been no comments here since October 2021 but I think we should leave this interesting discussion open.

To summarise: we are not looking for the departure of the Mayflower as originally thought. The painting’s title – as Pieter said, it’s a red-herring – does not describe its subject. Rather than a Victorian historical painting of the Mayflower we are looking at a contemporary scene of Scottish emigration. It was probably painted in the 1840s and may well be a collaboration between two provincial artists, one of whom painted the group of figures and the other the coastal scene.

Kieran spotted (23/10/21) the Tam o’ Shanter men’s bonnets held by the elderly man and worn by a younger man at the back of the group which indicates this is a Scottish scene.

Tamsyn noted the fashionable Victorian hairstyle of the young woman seated on the left. As Kieran pointed out (23/10/21) she is probably the wife of a departing emigrant and is surrounded by several of their children, extended family and/or friends.

I have found her same hairstyle in York Art Gallery’s William Etty of ‘The Wood Children’, 1845:

After David posted details of the painting, Jacinto (23/10/21) suggested two provincial artists could be involved, one for the figures and another for the rest of the painting. I think this is very plausible. The painter of the romantic coastal scene included a couple lower down the cliff, watching the departing ship in the sunset, and these figures are clearly very different in style to the family group which is the main subject. The cliffs may well be imaginary rather than an actual place.

We are now looking for a minor artist of narrative paintings working around the 1840s who may have collaborated with a marine artist. He or she could have lived anywhere in the UK. It would be useful to have this discussion linked with the Scotland group, for its subject.

Kieran has also pointed out (25/9/21) that the donor of the painting to the collection was Councillor George Albert Waller (not Walker) as stated on Art UK.

Sheena, thank you for summarising progress on this discussion and for suggesting that we leave it open. It has been linked to 'Scotland: Artists and Subjects'.

Just a brief thought, possibly already buried somewhere above. If this is, as it now seems, an early to mid-19th century composition of 'Scottish emigrants departing' (which might be a better title) then those going would appear to following the advice attributed to Horace Greeley of 'Go west young man...'. In sum, it is the community's 'young men' apparently going - or going first to seek better fortune - since the group shown is practically all older people and children. The only two younger men are at right, a tall one partly visible, and a repectably dressed sandy-haired one in gentlemanly blue, not obviously in economic distress.

Is this going further or can it now close with a suitable title change (to be decided) and a note that includes its previous and mistaken identity as departure of the 'Mayflower' in 1620?

I was hoping that somebody would come up with an artist's name (or two collaborating) after this was also linked to the Scotland group. To repeat myself, we are now looking for a minor artist of narrative paintings working around the 1840s who may have collaborated with a marine artist. However, nobody has recognised the distinctive figures.
I agree it's unlikely to go further and can be closed.