Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Maritime Subjects 30 Who painted 'Guardship off the Nore'?

Guardship off The Nore
Topic: Artist

Suggestions for the artist and other examples of his work would be welcome.

The painting was formerly in the collection of the Birmingham screw manufacturer Frederick Nettlefold (d.1881) as the work of Clarkson Stanfield (1793–1867). It was included as a Stanfield in the printed Nettlefold catalogue.

Though the sky might be Stanfield, the rest isn't. I formerly wondered about James Baker Pyne (1800–1870), mainly for the way the sunlit cliffs in the background are done, but could not find anything in a list (or a copy thereof) of his works which I think I saw in the National Portrait Gallery. So far, I have not pursued the matter further.

Until recently, it hung for many years in a corridor just outside my office. It’s been puzzling me for far too long.

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

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The painting remains catalogued as ‘British School’. The acquisition method has been recorded and a painting description added from the recently updated collection website.

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.


Felicity Herring,

Have you considered that it maybe by George Chambers (1803-1840)?
FISHING VESSELS IN A HEAVY SWELL OFF WHITBY looks quite similar, it was sold by Christies in a Maritime Art sale 5482 sale item 91.

Thanks, but I know Chambers well and am sure it isn't. Someone long ago suggested 'Norwich School' but while I can see why that might cross the mind I've not seen anything convincing in support.

Yes; and in terms of any single artist's work it perhaps most frequently in Turner's, but in all instances, irrespective of artist, well out on the Nore Sand anchorage, usually from north and west, emphasizing its isolation, not from the east (which it would have to be here) placing it close in under a higher coast than that of the Isle of Grain, which is what is the land behind would have to be - though one has to take artistic licence into account. And, as already in the information supplied opnline (and your image) guardships were bigger, at least two-deckers. I also can't think of another Thames picture with sailing trawlers in it of the type shown - Channel or East coast would be more their sort of ground: these are also part of the puzzle, which includes the received title. If its what it says, its a romanticized version with compositional affinity to Turner's missing 'Leader seapiece': if not, hard to think where else.

Charles Payton,

Pieter, I ask forgiveness if obtuse. I am not surprised at your discomfiture. This is a most unsettling image to fall under that title. I am only an amateur as you know but I have, since I was young, seen those approaches several times from the sea. If we are saying the River lies ahead then the two coasts shewn might be hard to find here in that orientation? Even if the Medway is suggested then the view is hard to take. I am not qualified to be in any way precise but might the key actually lie in those brutal and powerful luggers? Where in the Sceptered Isle would they be from? They are crude to say the least especially in the stern detail and they do suggest to me vessels from outside our waters. The punt is surely not British? Heigh ho this is what happens when an old fart like me starts in!!

Richard Longfoot,

Have you considered John Christian Schetky (1778 -1875)? Although he tended to paint specific events, the dramatic composition, with a lively sea and sky, certainly resemble his work.

Tamsyn Taylor,

I think it is Clarkson Stanfield The choppy sea painted in that manner occurs in a number of his works.
The lighting on the cliffs also occurs on different objects in a number of his pictures, such as the lighting on the Doges Palace in a Venetian pic, and London Bridge in another one.

Louis Musgrove,

Pieter- I have read the blurb on the NMM website.It sums it up nicely. British frigate off the south coast.I have looked at Stanfield's and Schettky's marine paintings- don't think so----and also Turner's.
I must ask the obvious question--- are you sure it's not a Turner???

Sorry all: in my view its not Stanfield, Schetky, Turner or anyone I can so far put a name to or (even without a name) produce another example by. The only other marine I have seen which chimed a similar bell in terms of the palette and the painting of boats was a coast scene by someone called Byron (W. Byron I think, but only by memory) which a friend had - and I've never found anything else by or about him either.

My only caveat is that the sky might be Stanfield but not the rest: he was reported to have added (or finished) a sky to something by George Chambers after his death in 1840, though in my view it is also not Chambers. I have never found any mention of Stanfield doing it for anyone else but if he did it might explain where the attribution came from, which is the one it originally had in the Nettlefold Collection. How it got there is something I also haven't investigated, but I think the Nettlefold archive may be in Birmingham: that is where the family prosperity started with John Sutton Nettlefold (1792-1866) the wood-screw manufacturer, one of whose sons was Frederick (1833-1913) and whose son in turn was Frederick John (1867-1949). Where the family art accumulation started I cannot recall but the Nettlefold collection, as catalogued in four volumes in 1933 by C. Reginald Grundy, was that of Frederick John. It gives no clue as to which generation acquired this painting or where from.

Jacob Simon,

Pieter writes, "in my view its not Stanfield, Schetky, Turner or anyone I can so far put a name to or (even without a name) produce another example by" (30 September 2020). After 7 years, probably time to close this inconclusive discussion, "Who painted 'Guardship off the Nore'?"

Thanks Marcie: this is a ell-known paallel and the 'Leader Sea-piece' print (Turner's related oil original being long-lost) may well have been a model for it.

The received title of the present oil is also misleading, as alreafy mentioned above. The location is unlikely to be the Nore and the ship shown in the background is a single-decker (frigate): guardships at the Nore were at always at least two-decks, sometimes three.

Turners image is also a bit of a puzzle, despite its 'Guardship' title:
the ship he shows is a two-decker apparently rigged for sea, rather than with the reduced top-hamper (and no rigged sails) of guardships, including as he usually shows them. Albeit the ensign at the stern is also only in monochrome, the only saltire-cross one I can think of that would fit would be the blue on white of the Russian navy of his day. Russian ships did occasionally visit but its not a matter that anyone has yet pursued, as far as I am aware -no doubt in part because the oil has vanished.

I am sure this is not a late-century picture, or by a 'pierhead painter' (i.e. a documentary ship portraitist) which is what Witham of Liverpool was: his 'Follow me' of 1897 - recalling a locally celebrated incident there of 1881 - is also unusual for him in showing multiple vessels and there are other similar versions by W,H. Yorke (1899) and Parker Greenwood.

The only old opinion someone (and I can't recall who) once suggested to me was early/mid 19th century Norwich School, which has some stylistic credibility.

I should add correction to my original 2015 note above that it comes from the collection of Frederick John Nettlefold (1867-1949) who was one of the Birmingham screw-making family but of the second generation, not the founding one. His father was Frederick Nettlefold (1833-1913) and his sister Edith became Mrs Sydney Martineau (from 1929 the lay president of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches: It was a strongly Unitarian family 'ab initio'). Frederick John lived in Sussex and made his money in Moore & Nettlefold, glass bottle manufacturers. How much of his collection was inherited is not clear. His uncle Joseph Henry Nettlefold (who was the man who died in 1881 and did the main work of setting up the B'ham screw works) left a collection of paintings by David Cox to the city but Frederick John could have acquired this by any means and at any time before it appeared in his published collection catalogue of 1933-38 by Reginald C. Grundy.

I will amend the collection record information about which Nettlefold holding this came from before recommending closure, which won't be before the end of next week but I hope by end of month. Though I don't consider it likely, does anyone think it might be by a non-British hand? The two sailing trawlers have the three masted rig of French 'chasse-marée's though that may mean nothing, since they came over to the English coast, as here though with masts down:

Provenance detail in the collection entry on this has now been corrected and I suggest the discussion closes. Thanks for the various suggestions made but it's one of those cases only likely to resolve when something by the same hand and with a name attached turns up.

Andrew Shore,

Could this be by Frederick Calvert?

I do wonder if there is a faint inscription bottom left, as per Alistair Brown's suggestion some time ago. I had a little play around with the image in Photoshop and I think there could be a 'Calvert' on the attached image, bottom left to top right. His signature is clear on many of his works on Art UK for comparison.

Calvert's seas are somewhat 'like' but his general colour is brighter and I don't think either in his shipping drawing or skies are as good.

While its a long time since I looked at the canvas I found nothing on it even with a good light. I'll try and have another look but don't think its worth leaving the matter open for that.

I fear not: another instance of it being easy to say who it isn't rather than is. Though colourful early on, Luny's style became greyer and imprecise - owing to rheumatics - well before he died in 1837, and I doubt this is significantly earlier.

I still think the old suggestion (not mine) of a Norwich connection has some merit. It has affinities with dark-tone marine oils by both Crome and J.S Cotman, though closer to the shipping drawing of the latter or his son Miles.