We are delighted to announce the acquisition of an important watercolour – a harbour scene by the Anglo-French artist Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-28). English by birth, Bonington moved to France with his family at the age of fifteen. In Calais, he trained in the English manner of watercolour with the artist Louis Francia before moving to Paris, where he shone by his talent as a watercolourist and did much to popularise the medium among contemporary French artists. A close friend of the painter Eugène Delacroix, he evolved in Romantic circles and became instrumental in the cross-Channel exchange of art and ideas during the post-Napoleonic era.
Shipping off the coast of Dieppe by Richard Parkes Bonington. ZBA5117
The watercolour is a picturesque view of fishing boats and a paddle steamer in choppy waters, painted around 1824-25 – shortly after the first regular steamboat service was established between England and France. For the Museum’s Curator of Ship History, John Graves, Bonington’s watercolour represents a pivotal moment in the ascendancy of steam over sail: even though the former is still in its relative infancy, the paddle steamer is ploughing onward purposefully to its destination, while the other craft seem to be struggling in the turbulent sea.
The watercolour was previously identified as a view of Dieppe, but new research by the Museum’s General Editor, Pieter van der Merwe, suggests that the work may actually be a view of Boulogne, in keeping with an old but previously discounted inscription on the reverse (compare, for example, with Frederick Nash’s contemporary view of the harbour at Boulogne, PAD1608). Let us know if you recognise the view.
Around the time he painted this watercolour, Bonington was becoming increasingly aware of the celebrated maritime and coastal paintings of J.M.W. Turner. In the summer of 1825, he returned to England for the first time, in the company of Delacroix and other French painters, and encountered Turner’s work at first hand. In the same years, Bonington also travelled extensively along the north coast of France, sketching the topography, harbours, and coastal communities on the beach or at sea. A handful of prints after these can be found in our collection (see, for example, the view of the mouth of the Somme at Le Crotoy, PAH2272).
In addition to recording early steam navigation between France and England, the dual cultural identity of the artist makes this watercolour a particularly attractive piece for our collection. But the French connection is only one aspect of its appeal. Even more seductive are the jewel-like quality, fresh colours and sophisticated use of the medium as Bonington invites us into the scene. The artist animates the sea with vigorous brushstrokes, a few nervous scratches within the thicker layers of paint evoking the foam of tumultuous waves. In the fishing craft, the figures are rendered in simple yet efficacious dabs. The overall scene is crowned by a delicate horizon and pellucid sky.
Looking at this dazzling watercolour, it becomes evident why, since his untimely death from tuberculosis at the age of 26, Bonington has been recognised as one of the most talented and original artists of his generation. He bridges two worlds, with evocative paintings that exerted a lasting influence on both sides of the Channel, attracting the admiration of the greatest collectors and the inspiration of such giants of art as Turner and Delacroix.
Dieppe (or is it Boulogne?) is the first painting by the artist to enter the collection and we look forward to being able to display it. Check back here soon to find out when it will make its first public appearance in Greenwich. In the meantime, we leave the last word to Delacroix, who wrote of his friend that “no one in this modern school, and perhaps even before, has possessed that lightness of touch which, especially in the watercolours, makes his work a type of diamond that flatters and ravishes the eye.”
What would Nelson think of our latest addition to the collection?
England expects: Oozora Yuuhi as Nelson
It’s a poster advertising a performance of Trafalgar: Nelson, His Love and Miracle by the Cosmos troupe of the Takarazuka Revue. Founded by employees of the Hanyu Railway Company in 1913, the Takarazuka Revue is an all-female musical troupe in Japan that enjoys cult status among Japanese theatre-goers. During its long history, the Revue has staged an extraordinary array of lavish productions, drawing freely on Western musicals, film and popular culture as well as Japanese folklore. Trafalgar was an original musical based on the love affair between Horatio Nelson and Emma Hamilton, written and directed by Saitou Yoshimasa and starring Oozora Yuuhi as Nelson and Nono Sumika as Emma. It was performed to packed houses at the Grand Theater, Takarazuka, and the Takarazuka Theater in Tokyo, during summer 2010. The performance was followed each night by the song and dance extravaganza, Funky Sunshine. Takarazuka Revue’s innovative reworking of British naval history is a fascinating example of the enduring global appeal of the story of Nelson and Emma Hamilton. The poster comes to the Museum as the generous gift of the Takarazuka Revue, together with a printed programme.
We are always on the look-out for interesting and unexpected instances of how the image and mythology of Nelson has been reinterpreted and reused around the world. Have you seen a good example? If so, let us know.
The Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology has recently made a very generous loan. Royal Museums, Greenwich is to provide a home for an important memorial to the engineers of Titanic.
None of the twenty five engineer officers survived, and many of the firemen and coal trimmers also died in the disaster. They delayed the final sinking by keeping the pumps running preventing the boilers from exploding. The lights remained on and the wireless working until the vessel went down.
The loss of Titanic began a change of attitude towards ship’s engineers. During the Royal Naval Exhibition of 1891, Punch published a cartoon about the event, showing a notice which said: “ENGINEER SNUBBING THROUGHOUT THE DAY.”
The three memorials to Titanic’s engineers show them in a newly heroic light. The bronze wall memorial set up at the then Institute of Marine Engineers, was paid for by part of a relief fund set up by the Institute and the Daily Chronicle. By sculptor George Alexander (1881-1942), it shows two engineers, a relief of the sinking vessel and Neptune’s head flanked by polar bears.
The main engineers’ memorial by Whitehead and Sons, stands in East Park, Southampton. It has reliefs of two engineering officers, crowned by a winged Victory standing on a ship’s prow. The memorial, also erected by public subscription and contributions from fellow engineers, was unveiled in 1914 by Sir Archibald Denny. The remainder of the crew, including the coal trimmers and firemen were commemorated by a drinking fountain set up on Southampton Common the following year. It now stands in the bombed ruins of Holy Rood Church.
The engineers’ memorial on the Pier Head at Liverpool, by William Goscombe John was not finished until 1916. By that time unrestricted submarine warfare had placed all merchant seafarers in the front line, the casualties overwhelming those lost in the Titanic. An obelisk terminating in flames and surrounded by the burley figures of engineers and stokers now celebrates all: “Heroes of the engine room”.
If you have passed the Museum lately you may have noticed the arrival of a giant ship in a bottle which was formerly located in Trafalgar Square.
A campaign was launched by the Art Fund and the National Maritime Museum at the end of 2011 and successfully raised £362,500 enabling the National Maritime Museum to acquire and permanently display Yinka Shonibare, MBE’s much-loved sculpture.
In order to help explain the meaning behind the sculpture and its new home at the National Maritime Museum we met up with Yinka Shonibare and our very own Simon Stephens.
For hundreds of years, paper sea charts were an essential tool for marine navigation. The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office drew sea charts and saw itself as the guardian of the mariner’s safety. Paper charts were an internationally recognised legal document, so important that international law defined how charts should be carried on board commercial vessels and how mariners should maintain them on board.
Yet in the 1970s a rival navigation technology emerged: electronic charts. In Canada, Italy, Norway and the USA competing scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs developed a new way of navigating without using paper, combining electronic position-finding equipment, a computer and digital graphic displays. For digital charts to become the legal equivalent of paper charts the International Maritime Organisation had to agree with computer engineers and new chart manufacturers. Who would map the future of electronic charts? The scientists, the mariners, the entrepreneurs or the hydrographers?
In November 2010 I was awarded a Sackler Short-term Fellowship in the History of Science and Technology by the National Maritime Museum to study the international developments, exchanges and rivalries which created digital charts. This builds on 4 ½ months of research which I undertook at the National Maritime Museum in 2010, funded by University of Michigan Museum Studies Program and the National Maritime Museum Internship Programme.
World’s first electronic chart, built for oil tankers on the Beaufort sea in the Canadian Arctic: Offshore Systems Precise Navigation System 1979
First electronic chart from Italy: Navionics Geonav prototype 1984
Young people on an Ocean Youth Trust South sail training voyage show that using electronic charts is now child’s play!
The future of electronic chart technology is integrated communication and navigation. Commercial chart producers now hope to create user generated content or “crowd-sourced” information layers on to electronic charts, and allow individual users – rather than only hydrographic offices – to highlight features which could be useful for the navigator.
Although electronic charts were first invented in the 1970s, the UK National Maritime Museum’s chart collection does not have any electronic charts. My research project thus links the history of electronic charts with the Museum’s current holdings in post-1950 electronic navigation instruments, a priority collection area for the Museum. By examining which instruments were interfaced with electronic charts, and which instruments were influential for the development of electronic charts, my project will recommend future acquisitions for the Museum’s instrument and cartographic collections.