Completed British 18th C, except portraits, London: Artists and Subjects, Maritime Subjects 40 Who painted this picture? Was it John Cleveley the elder (c.1712–1777), or was it in fact William Pratt (active mid-18th C)?

St Albans' Floated out at Deptford, 1747
Topic: Artist

This painting is signed and dated 'J Clevly P:1747'.

The attached link is to what appears to be another, larger, version of this event in a painting which – without a dated signature on it – would be immediately attributed to Cleveley. It is, however, very clearly signed and dated as by a William Pratt, Greenwich, 1750 (on the canvas cover of the boat l.r.), which technical examination suggests is original and not some later addition/falsification:

https://bit.ly/2uTLRun

The compositional framing, left and right, is unusual for Cleveley (just a cut-off naval lion figurehead in profile to left, and an also cut-off bow of a cutter or similar vessel at right), as is the roseate pink tone, especially in the modelling of the clouds: Cleveley’s clouds tend to be flatter and white/grey-blue. Nonetheless it is an impressive piece and remarkably close to and on a par with him in terms of quality. (If it is, as we think, also the launch of the 'St Albans', and were it by Cleveley, it would also certainly be considered a primary version rather than a secondary copy to that in the National Maritime Museum, as the auction description implies.)

Mr Pratt, however, is an enigma. There is only one other painting by him apparently known in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, of very different subject matter but similar if slightly rougher painting character, dated 1769.

https://bit.ly/2MoTqn3

Pratt otherwise does not appear to feature as a known artist in any readily discoverable reference source. We have just the name, a now apparent date range of c.1750–1769, and 'Greenwich' as a location for 1750 (i.e. a short walk from Deptford).

On the basis of Pratt’s Deptford picture it is inconceivable that he could have painted so like Cleveley without being associated with him. Given that there was a large concentration of craftsmen, including painters, employed at Deptford Dockyard because of its specialisation in building and maintaining the Georgian royal yachts, it is possible that, like Cleveley (who was a lifelong shipwright/carpenter there), he may also turn up on the Deptford yard books when enquiry can be pursued. If he does though, it may raise the possibility that some 'Cleveleys' which have been attributed solely on style rather than signature may turn out to be 'Pratts'. Why he should later have turned to 'Classical Ruins', as in the other picture, is also an open question, but that might also be explained if he was essentially a decorative painter by trade.

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

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The conclusion is that we have identified a mid-18th century painter called William Pratt, who, like John Cleveley the Elder, was probably also a shipwright/carpenter in the Greenwich/Deptford area and is at present known from one (privately owned) work in the manner of John Cleveley the Elder. That picture shows what is apparently the floating out of the 'St Albans' but, if a direct copy from Cleveley, based on a version not now known and prior to the Cleveley picture at the National Maritime Museum.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this discussion. To those viewing it for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.

39 comments

Christopher Foley,

Pieter, I can add a little to the provenance of the large painting in Doyle's of the launch of a ship. It was with Lane Fine Art in the 1980's. I had bought it in very dirty state in New York (the precise date/details will have to await my return to London) and the Pratt signature was certainly original to the picture. I had the picture cleaned and restored, and there were quite a few pentimenti in the composition. I wondered at the time about its relationship to the NMM picture which is dated three years earlier, and mused that, rather than a direct copy, whether Mr Pratt had filched Cleveley's design and used it for a picture of the launch of a similar ship three years later. It would odd to have a much larger copy of a smaller original. It does not have the mechanical 'feel' of a copy. There are other enigmatic artists of high quality working in the dockyards around this date, like Michael Topping, who drew the portrait of the "Falmouth" in the NMM and of whom only one signed picture has turned up so far. It is perhaps not surprising that an artist should produce a sub-Pannini classical landscape: Arthur Devis (of all people) similarly painted and signed a few such pictures earlier in his career: they are wholly unlike his 'conversations'.

Osmund Bullock,

Pieter, from our previous correspondence you know all about the man I found, William Pratt of Greenwich & Deptford, master ship carpenter, fl.1748-73, though so far there's no evidence whatever to suggest he may also have been an artist. But to avoid repetition of the genealogical / biographical research by others, I think it worth attaching a summary of the results about him that is fuller & clearer than the auction catalogue. The main source is the Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices' Indentures, 1710-1811.

I should perhaps mention two other Kentish men of the same name who may mislead the unwary: William Pratt, master joiner (fl.1714-21), and William Pratt, master cordwainer (fl. 1740-76), both of Chatham. Chatham was of course a hugely important naval dockyard in the C18th; so although the joiner had no known naval connection, it's not impossible he was the father of the Greenwich ship carpenter. There was also a London printer namesake recorded at Eagle Court (just off the Strand) in 1749.

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Thanks for both of the above inputs (and -Osmund - the update of information we have already discussed): I'll try and have a look at the Deptford yard books etc in due course. We still need a response from the Lady Lever Art Gallery about the ruins picture too, however slight: they clearly don't watch this channel, but perhaps Art UK has a more direct route to prompt one (?)

Martin Hopkinson,

Pieter - the Lady Lever comes under the Walker Art Gallery - so perhaps it should be contacted too
Details about the painting should appear in Alex Kidson' s Earlier British Paintings in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, 1999
It looks like an overdoor

Thanks: I realise that, but attempts to reach them by normal means (email/phone) haven't so far worked. Thanks for the Kidson ref. if someone has it perhaps they coud post what it says here....

Martin Hopkinson,

Shamefully the British Library has not got a copy! However, I will be in the Paul Mellon Centre next week and it must have it! NAL closed until the very end of the month

The painting by Pratt does not appear in Alex Kidson's book of 1999, Earlier British Paintings in the Lady Lever Art Gallery. I have it handy and have looked it up in both text, index and appendix. Maybe the WAG has more info.

Kieran Owens,

It is interesting to note the similarities of detail and view, although seemingly painted up to sixteen years apart, between Cleveley's 1747 and Pratt's 1750 paintings of the 'St. Alban's' and Cleveley's 'Deptford Dockyard - 'Les Trois Amis' of 1763

This compositional approach can also be seen in this sequence of Cleveley's following works, as compared to Pratt's 1750 painting:

c.1747 - 'Deptford Dockyard' (Museums Sheffield) (John Cleverly the elder)
https://bit.ly/2L1UZCw

1747 - 'The 'St Alban's' Floated out at Deptford, 1747' (National Maritime Museum) (John Cleverly the elder)
https://bit.ly/2Bl50en

1750 - 'St. Alban's' Floated out at Deptford, after John Cleveley the Elder' (Doyle.com) (William Pratt)
https://bit.ly/2uTLRun

1750 - 'Launch at Deptford Dockyard' (Science Museum) (John Cleverly the elder)
https://bit.ly/2MT8GW5

1757 - 'The 'Royal George' at Deptford Showing the Launch of 'The Cambridge'' (National Maritime Museum) (John Cleverly the elder)
https://bit.ly/2Mn9PJt

1763 - 'Deptford Dockyard - 'Les Trois Amis'' (Government Art Collection) (John Cleverly the elder)
https://bit.ly/2nNr4Fa

Thanks for checking the reference Barbara: I'm afraid we just have to wait for Liverpool to pipe up, but its becoming a very long wait ...

The Cleveley Deptford 'types' are well known (at least to marine specialists) which is what makes the Pratt one such a puzzle. There is in fact a fourth large example of the 'Royal George plus Cambridge' type at Yale, with what may be the same ship (with Prince of Wales feathers on the stern) replacing the 'Royal George' as in the Science Museum version.

Martin Hopkinson,

I will ask Alex Kidson, no longer on the staff of Merseyside Museums and Galleries, if he knows anything more

Martin Hopkinson,


I don't suppose that there is a street directory for Greenwich as 1750 or that he was in the navy or merchant navy?
Incidentally another Pratt supposed 'copy' of the NMM picture, signed and dated 1750, was in the recent 23 May 2018 , Doyle's, New York sale of the sale of the collection of Wendy Vanderbilt Lehman and others.
ARTFIX daily does not give the lot number

Martin Hopkinson,

The Port Sunlight my be part of a large piece of furniture and hence omitted according to Alex Kidson

Thanks Martin: as far as I know there were no 'street directories' for Greenwich in the 1750s. The place was a much more amorphous post-medieval 'rookery' than today in the centre and spread out quite a long way as far as politer parts went. The Pratt 'copy' is the one that was in the Doyle's auction in NY, but was from among the 'others', not WV Lehmen ownership. I have reason to believe it is heading back across the pond, so closer inspection may at some point become possible.

Osmund Bullock,

No, there are no directories outside central London (and a few other cities) before the end of the C18th, and even then coverage is vestigial. Thos Wakefield’s 1794 London, Westminster & Southwark directory theoretically covers a 22-mile radius from St Paul’s, but in practice doesn’t really – there are but a handful of tradesmen each listed for Greenwich, Deptford & Woolwich, and ordinary residents don’t appear. Things don’t really begin in most places till Pigot & Co in the 1820s, and it’s the 1830s before there are more systematic listings.

I have made what I think is a significant discovery re the enigmatic Mr Pratt. Still digging further into it, but will write things up and post shortly...

That is another 'St Albans-type' Cleveley view, showing the 'floating out' of another two-decker of similar size from the double-dock (that is, takes two ships end to end) between the Master Shipwright's house on the left and the Great Storehouse . The former is still there as a private residence called for some reason the 'Shipwrights' palace': the latter is not, though the clock and turret survive, now shifted down to Thamesmead. Given it's not apparently signed or dated it would take some research to identify the ship being floated out (i.e. launched, having been built in the dock) but it is not the 'St Albans'. The clue - as E.H.H (Teddy) Archibald of the NMM pointed out long ago, is the trees in front of the Master Shipwright's house, which have had a few years growth on from the 1747 date of the 'St Albans' painting.

Jacinto Regalado,

Part of the problem here is that the apparent copy by Pratt is not only larger than the Cleveley version but also better, or certainly prettier. One possible explanation is that Cleveley's bent was more technical or topographic, so to speak, more matter-of-fact and workmanlike, and Pratt's was more decorative or theatrical, akin to a scenery painter, so that he "improved" upon Cleveley's original (as his classical landscape would seem to indicate). However, apart from the handling of the sky, the classical scene strikes me as much more freely handled, though I suppose that may be due to its being an original design (or inspired by one of a similar nature).

Osmund Bullock,

So, I've turned up evidence that supports the idea that the man I previously identified, William Pratt of Greenwich & Deptford, shipwright & carpenter, may also have been an artist. At the very least it proves he was a great art lover, and had knowledge of fine artists – and I doubt that was true of many shipwright/carpenters in mid-C18th England.

Although he appears several times as master in the apprentice duty records between 1748 (in fact probably 1743) & 1773, until recently I'd only identified two appearances by William (with his wife Mary) in parish registers: the baptisms of their daughter Mary (July 1750) and son Andrew James (Nov 1752). [See the pdf attached to my first post, which also explains how Andrew’s 1768 apprenticeship connects William & Mary with William the shipwright.] I'd thought that both of these baptisms were at Greenwich (St Alfege), but in fact the earlier one was at Woolwich (St Mary Magdalene). A wider search then led to a succession of christenings for William & Mary Pratt starting at Old Charlton (St Luke) in 1743, continuing at Woolwich from 1746, and ending at Greenwich in 1752. It's just possible we're looking at more than one couple – but the proximity of the parishes, and the perfect fit of the sequence (without overlap or conflicts of date/name) suggest it's just one. Here is the list – the names they gave their first three children after moving to Woolwich should be of particular interest:

1743-07-13 (b.19 Jun) Charlton son William
1744-11-08 (b.7 Nov) Charlton dau Susanna
1746-05-14 (b.14 May) Woolwich twin sons Vanderveld & Vandike
1747-12-26 (b.24 Dec) Woolwich dau Rosalva
1750-07-07 (b.14 Jun) Woolwich dau Mary
1752-11-15 Greenwich son Andrew James

Osmund Bullock,

(Sorry, I carefully formatted that list into easily-read columns, but it hasn't worked!)

Osmund Bullock,

Willem van de Velde would have been an obvious hero to a painter of ships, especially one in Greenwich where the Dutchman had lived and worked. 'Rosalva' was an C18th anglicization of Rosalba (Carriera) – Reynolds calls her that in his sketchbooks, and she was probably the most celebrated woman artist of the time. It is notable that the period of the three Pratt ‘artist name’ christenings is exactly the same as that when Cleveley seems to have started painting in earnest – the 1747 painting under discussion is I think his first known dated work.

Osmund Bullock,

Amazingly John Cleveley also had twin boys, born 18 months or so after William Pratt's sons (and just a day after his daughter Rosalva). Both of Cleveley's grew to adulthood and became artists themselves, but Pratt was not so lucky. Vanderveld and Vandike Pratt were buried at Woolwich only three days after their birth, as sadly was Rosalva just six days after hers. Prior to the birth of his twin boys, Cleveley had also lost two children – his two first-borns, John (bp. Jan 1745) and Hannah (bp. Jun 1746) had died in Feb and Oct 1746 respectively. Not only that, but Pratt’s eldest daughter Susanna then also died, in May 1748.

If, as I now believe, the two men worked together at the Royal Dockyards at Deptford and/or Woolwich**, it would surely be natural for such a string of shared (and tragic) experiences to have drawn them together – even without a mutual interest in art.

[**Pieter(?) suggests in the NMM's catalogue entry for their 'Royal George' painting ( https://bit.ly/2BlKMS4 ) that Cleveley may have worked on the ship at Woolwich as "the temporary movement of craftsmen between yards was not uncommon".]

Osmund Bullock,

I've just noticed that Wm Pratt's last child, Andrew, baptised in Nov 1752, bore the middle name James (the only one of his children to have one) - and James was the christian name of Cleveley's penultimate child born five months earlier. I wish UK parish registers gave godparents' names, as C18th ones in Germany do!

Fascinating stuff Osmund: circumstantial but very unusual and at least shows that a Dockyard paybook search in the ADM42 series in TNA is a necessary next step.

Regarding the painting at Lady Lever Art Gallery:

It is listed in the Public Catalogue Foundation book as being by William Pratt, however, it is not listed in other catalogues that cover the collections at the gallery. We have searched in the archives to find out that the painting came in as part of the wood panelling, which was made by William Kent (1694-1748). The panelling is pinewood painted olive green and enriched with gilding. The panelling was bought from Arthur Edwards, a dealer, in 1919 and it is recorded as having come from ‘an old house in Chatham’. The panelling is believed to date from about 1730. At the time that the panelling and painting came to the gallery it is recorded as :- an original oil painting of Italian ruins by or in the manner of Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1691-1768) in a gilt frame..’

How the painting has become attributed to William Pratt we are afraid we do not know and we do not hold any information about this artist. Colleagues have been to look at the painting with a torch and cannot see any signature. We have asked our senior paintings conservator if he has ever had the painting off display to work on. Unfortunately, he has not, so he does not have any information or images which may be of use.

So, it seems that the painting remains a bit of a mystery, certainly in respect of the information that we hold in our records.

Walker Art Gallery fine art curators

Jacinto Regalado,

Frankly, I remain unconvinced that the painter of the maritime picture signed by William Pratt is the same as the painter of the classical scene in the Lady Lever Art Gallery rather dubiously attributed to Pratt.

Many thanks to the Walker for this response, which seems to produce yet another riddle, but at least one not touching on the mysterious Mr Pratt of Greenwich in circa 1750. If an explanation for how 'manner of Pannini' turned into Pratt does emerge, perhaps you could flag that up (and more immediately adjust the current artist attribution here so it does not continue to mislead).

Jacinto Regalado,

If the Lever Art Gallery "manner of Panini" picture is not by William Pratt, one possible candidate is Francis Harding (active ca. 1730-1760s), who painted a number of such pictures (just enter his name and the word "capriccio" in the ArtUK search engine).

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, thank you for that, Walker curators: a mystery indeed. But it seems incredible that the name of a completely unknown artist together with a specific year could have been attached to the Lever painting without there being some reason for it - were the colleagues who looked for a signature able to look at the back as well as the front? And is it indeed on canvas (as stated but with a question mark)?

The mention of the panelling said to be from an old house in Chatham is interesting (though from the information given, I'm unclear about the extent to which the painting is or was associated with it). I have now found some evidence - again only circumstantial - that the father of William Pratt the shipwright/carpenter of Woolwich & Greenwich was indeed William Pratt, master joiner of Chatham (fl. 1714-21 and later): the latter's wife was called Susannah (as was his eldest daughter, bap. 1720/1)...and that was also the name William the shipwright gave to *his* first daughter in 1744.

"William Pratt, a shipwright" (and doubtless the same man) was buried, I've discovered, at Greenwich in Feb 1795 - so the record of a namesake being admitted to, and then discharged from St Thomas's hospital the previous year (his guarantor a shipwright) may well be him. Unfortunately no age is given at burial - but if his father was the Chatham man, than he was baptised at C. in Sept 1717. This would make him 25 when he first appears early in 1743 as a master shipwright (at Woolwich) and as a father (at nearby Charlton); his death would have been aged 77.

Martin Hopkinson,

Pratt may have been the supplier not the artist. Timothy Stevens tells me that he was a leading purveyor of panelled rooms , fireplaces etc in the 1920s

Osmund Bullock,

Very interesting idea, Malcolm. And Pratt does indeed appear in 'Moving Rooms', Richard. However, the name of the company was 'C. Pratt, Son & Sons [sic]'. See https://bit.ly/2MUpFuJ

I will try and track down the names of the son and (?)grandsons, in case any was called 'William'.

Osmund Bullock,

No - no Williams were involved. Caleb Pratt (1829-1920) was a Suffolk-born cabinet maker who came up to London and moved into the antique furniture business c.1890. He was very successful, and expanded into multiple premises in the West End & then South Kensington. His sons Charles James (1865-1936) and Percy Arthur (1868-1942), though again cabinet makers by trade, joined him in the business.

After Caleb's death Charles peeled off to form his own successful antique furniture business (later with his own son, also Charles b.1899), in a row of shops in South Ken very close to his father's premises. Meanwhile Percy took over the original flourishing shops, and was later joined by both of *his* sons Harold & Stanley, thus forming 'C. Pratt, Son & Sons of 160-166 Brompton Rd'. It was they who seem to have been the specialists in salvaged antique panelling, etc during the 1920s/30s - the business was apparently still up and running in 1941.

Henry Kriegstein,

Hello. I was the underbidder on the Pratt painting when it was sold at Doyle's, and I had a good chance to inspect the painting both times that it was sold in New York. Also, I own a Cleverly painting of the launch of the Edgar at Rotherhithe. My impression is that the Pratt painting is not fine enough to be by Cleveley, but is likely a copy of a "lost" version by Cleveley which would have preceded the version at the NMM. It is probably by the William Pratt you have discussed above, who would have known Cleveley at Deptford. I have attached some details which give an idea of the quality of the Pratt painting. Also, there is a fair amount of inpainting on the picture, and the frame, while very nice, has been cut down to fit.
-Henry Kriegstein

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Thank you Henry: those details are very useful and I see exactly what you mean. Its an interesting idea that it might be from a now unknown Cleveley version of the 'St Albans', and still a fascinating thing especially since evidence of a hitherto unknown 'Cleveley-school' hand in the Deptford/Greenwich area -given that the attribution of the 'Classical ruins' picture at Liverpool appears to be a misidentification from a possible early 20th-century supplier's name. The latest issue of the 'British Art Journal' (XIX, no 2, November 2018) has an interesting piece by Brian Lavery called 'Art and Craft in a Dockyard Town: the Naval Career of John Cleveley the Elder' which fills that aspect out a bit including making the point that the Admiralty (or in Cleveley's case probably Lord Anson specifically) made sure Deptford kept a concentration of decorative artisans because it was the main building and maintenance base for the royal yachts: Pratt may yet turn out to have been employed there at some point. A curious point in your photo details is the absence of a clock in the turret of the Great Storehouse: I can't recall if (or when) that was an addition after it was built. (That survives and today looks very fine as the top of a 1980s clocktower down river at Thamesmead, in east Greenwich.) I hope to see the Pratt picture if, as rumour has it, it is coming back to this side of the pond but I think this discussion can now close.

The conclusion is that we seem to have identified a mid-18th century painter called William Pratt, who was probably also a shipwright/carpenter in the Greenwich/Deptford area and is at present known from just this one (not publicly owned) work. in the manner of John Cleveley the Elder. It shows what is apparently the floating out of the 'St Albans' but, if a direct copy from Cleveley, based on a version not now known.

William Pratt (b. 1717-d. 1795) appears be who and what we think he was. He was originally a shipwright/carpenter at Woolwich, by 1743; also for some time at Deptford and apparently at Portsmouth for the early part (1760-64) of the building of the 'Warwick', launched in 1767. He also served time afloat in a number of the ships to which he was assigned. Without going into further detail here these were the 'Mary', yacht, into which he shifted from Woolwich yard to being a sea-going carpenter on 20 February 1746; then the 'Dunkirk'*, 'Dragon', 'Mars' (a celebrated French capture, by the 'Nottingham' in 1746), then the 'Warwick'*, 'Chester', 'Orford' and 'Conquestador' (a Spanish capture at Havana in 1762). It only seems likely he was appointed to those marked * during their construction; the rest were just postings to others already built or perhaps under repair, remembering that ships' carpenters were 'standing officers' who remained in their ships even when 'in ordinary (ie in 'reserve') on harbour moorings. In other words, reckonable 'sea service' of this sort could be close to home for extensive periods. In 1770, after 22 years and 5 days of near-continuous employment up to 30 June that year (with only a few short breaks), he applied to the Admiralty for superannuation and a pension, also producing a certificate showing he was 'upwards of Fifty three years of age'. That is, he was born in 1717 at latest (as the Chatham baptismal record Osmund has already found suggests). The Navy Board confirmed his career record from examination of the ships' books in a letter to the Admiralty dated 4 December 1770, which its secretary passed on to Surgeon's Hall for the 'usual reference', presumably an assessment of his health: this letter is in Navy Board out-letters archived at the NMM, Greenwich, (TNA: ADM/354/184/ 135 [NMM ADM/B/184]). While this does not yet provide an exact date for his naval retirement, it suggests that if he did any later carpentry work after 1770/71 (including as apprentice master into the 1780s) it was as a civilian.

While further detail of Pratt's career - naval and artistic- therefore remains 'work in progress' it now seems clear from this and Osmund's prior discoveries, all of which tie in, that he was like John Cleveley the Elder- a carpenter with a sideline as a painter, even though only one fairly impressive after-Cleveley picture is so far known. With that, and the hoping other examples may become identifiable, I think this discussion can now close.

Osmund Bullock,

Pieter, that's a tremendous find, congratulations. And most gratifying to see how well it all fits with the genealogical / biographical evidence previously found. I'll reply to your email about this shortly.

Thomas Ardill, Curator,

I agree with Pieter that this painting can now with good evidence be attributed to William Pratt, and therefore propose to close the discussion. Fantastic detective work.

Just to be clear to any late-comers: the Pratt picture is not the image visible at the top of the discussion but the one in the link given under 'Topic'.