HMS Endymion rescuing a French two-decker, 1803-05 (BHC0532)
This painting went on public display at the Museum in July 2011, for the first time in many years. What follows is a revision of the note posted here at that time, including updated details on the artist and his family kindly supplied by his great-great-granddaughter Sylvia Steer. I am grateful to her for making contact on the matter in September 2011 and also to Anthony Colls and to Jennifer Dunne.
The painter is the so-far little-documented Ebenezer Colls and the picture itself has until recently been something of a mystery. We have long known it relates to another version of the same incident by J. C. Schetky, though who was copying whom, and when, has been uncertain. Moreover, about twenty years ago and quite by chance, I came across another version at Grimsby by Nicholas Pocock, which must have been painted much earlier since he died in 1821. The uncertainties about how all three related have now proved fairly easy to resolve though not quite as tidily as first seemed the case.
In 1871 the well-known naval and marine artist, John Christian Schetky (1778 – 1874) exhibited an almost identical picture of this subject at the Royal Academy under the title ‘A gallant rescue; naval incident of the French war’ with a brief description of it. It roused considerable interest for reasons explained below, and was immediately purchased for 100 guineas by Admiral Sir James Hope, who presented it to the United Service Club as soon as it came off the Academy walls. In 1891 it was re-shown in the great Royal Naval Exhibition at Chelsea (no. 620), with a longer catalogue text. This had been put together by Hope in discussion with Schetky for the picture’s presentation to the Club, and in 1893 was also quoted in full in Sir John Knox Laughton‘s original ‘Dictionary of National Biography’ on Endymion’s captain:
‘Towards the close of the long French war, Captain the Hon. Sir Charles Paget, while cruising in the Endymion frigate on the coast of Spain, descried a French ship of the line in imminent danger, embayed among rocks upon a lee shore, bowsprit and foremast gone, and riding by a stream cable, her only remaining one. Though it was blowing a gale, Sir Charles bore down to the assistance of his enemy, dropped his sheet anchor on the Frenchman’s bow, buoyed the cable, and veered it athwart his hawse. This the disabled ship succeeded in getting in, and thus seven hundred lives were rescued from destruction. After performing this chivalrous action, the Endymion, being herself in great peril, hauled to the wind, let go her bower anchor, club-hauled and stood off shore on the other tack.’
The 1871 RA catalogue description adds that Endymion’s crew gave ‘three British cheers’ as they left the scene and that the ship dropped her starboard bower anchor to club-haul, a risky emergency manoeuvre in which the leeward anchor, with a spring (hawser) led astern, is dropped as the ship comes up into the wind: the vessel is then allowed to ‘reverse’ briefly onto the spring, pulling her stern quickly round to make sail on the opposite tack. The cable and spring have to be cut away and the anchor is usually lost, unless buoyed for later recovery:
‘Clubhauling was only resorted to as a measure of desperation in very bad weather, when embayed on a lee shore without room to wear [i.e., 'gybe' with the wind astern], and where there was no prospect that the vessel could tack successfully because of the sea breaking on the weather bow’ (John Harland, ‘Seamanship in the age of sail’ , p. 195)
The exhibition of Schetky’s picture in 1871 caused some public debate. For while Paget (1778-1839) commanded the Endymion from April 1803 to April 1805 he did not do so towards the end of the French wars (1793-1815) and nothing of this nature is recorded in his log, which was quickly checked at the time. If the incident happened, he may have omitted it for good reason in terms of the risk he took in hazarding his ship and the lives of his own men, albeit the seamanship involved is a testament to his confidence in them. He could not, however, have prevented it from entering naval lore by word of mouth. Laughton – one of the leading naval historians of his time – nevertheless dismissed it as ‘improbable’ in his 1893 DNB entry.
There things rested until 1913, when the Revd Edward Paget, Dean of Calgary, Canada, and Sir Charles’s grandson, published a ‘Memoir’ of him in which he devoted a chapter to ‘A Gallant Rescue’.* This testimony appears so far to have been overlooked. Edward Paget reports the story was well known in the family, originally from Sir Charles himself and that Schetky (according to the latter’s sisters) also heard it from him directly, since they were contemporaries and knew each other well. He was also not the first to depict it: for in 1807, Sir Charles had commissioned a previous picture of it from Nicholas Pocock (1740 – 1821). By 1913 this had descended to Edward and, though not now well-known, appeared (when this piece was first written) to be the one today in the local art collection at Grimsby.
There is, however, a snag. For while the Pagets certainly had such a picture, it appears to have been another version since, if the Grimsby records are correct, theirs was presented in 1871 by the Earl of Yarborough: he was High Steward of Grimsby but had no personal connection with the Pagets as far as can be seen. That would mean the Grimsby canvas cannot be the one inherited by Edward Paget and used to illustrate his 1913 ‘Memoir’. The only clue to an alternative source of the (B&W) illustration there is its apparent tone: that is, it looks lighter than the dark and stormy Grimsby oil, which might suggest that it was a watercolour version, for example. The original, whatever it was, in due course passed to Sir Charles’s fourth daughter Georgina who in 1841 married Captain William Henry Kennedy (d.1864) and on her death in 1901 to Edward Paget, her nephew.
It must presumably have been this one, which he knew when owned by Georgina Kennedy, that Schetky based his oil. One of Schetky’s sisters later told Edward that this was painted about 1866, though only exhibited in 1871. The ‘Memoir’ further confirms that the description, quoted above, was written by Hope and that the misleading dating of the incident to the end of the French wars was probably a slip of memory. Also that Sir Charles – who had other risky manoeuvres to his name – had not reported it officially since contrary to his specific instructions to destroy enemy shipping, let alone more general regulations. Edward also recalled his father’s report that Sir Charles’s particular worry in not doing so was how otherwise to account to the Admiralty for Endymion’s loss of the two anchors involved.
He nevertheless had Pocock – the leading marine painter of his day – depict the episode for him, in one or more versions. Laughton, by 1913, had also told Edward that he did not know of Pocock’s painting -or, presumably, the family tradition – when he wrote Sir Charles’s DNB entry some 20 years earlier. Edward himself made some enquiry to see if the French ship could be identified, though this got nowhere, and reproduced all the relevant albeit largely circumstantial evidence he had gathered on the truth of the incident. In sum, there is no reasonable doubt that it happened, though exactly when in the 1803-05 period, where on the northern Spanish coast, and which French warship was involved remain unknown.
The remaining questions are therefore, first, what was the presumed second version of the Pocock (i.e. oil or watercolour) which remained in the Paget family until at least 1913; and, second, where is it now? One would have thought that Sir Charles would have commissioned an oil – and it may indeed still be that at Grimsby, if it was disposed of before 1871. If so, his family appear to have had another and now unlocated version, possibly in watercolour, for much longer. It is that one which Edward Paget later had on his walls in Canada when he wrote the 1913 ‘Memoir’, and he may himself not have realized that there were perhaps two versions. Though not conclusive, this is the most probable explanation to fit the currently available facts.
Colls’s picture is the same general composition as both the Pocock and Schetky versions and it is safe to assume it is based on the latter, following its exhibition at the RA in 1871. It is, however, one of a same-size pair of which the other (BHC0482) shows the start of the action in which the Indefatigable and Amazon drove the French Droits de l’Homme onto the Brittany coast in 1797, in equally stormy conditions. Colls copied this from a print of a painting by W.J. Huggins and until the 1980s the present picture was itself mistakenly thought to show the end of the same episode. All of the Endymion pictures show her on the port tack as she prepares to drop her sheet anchor for the French two-decker, before bearing up into the wind, club-hauling at the cost of losing her starboard bower anchor, and clawing offshore on the starboard tack. The Schetky version remains in the former United Service Club building, London, now headquarters of the Institute of Directors.
Destruction of the Droits de l’Homme, 13 January 1797 (BHC0482)
Charles Paget was fifth son of the first Earl of Uxbridge and entered the Navy in 1790. Well-connected and competent he rose rapidly and had early success as a frigate captain. In 1804, in the Endymion, he became rich from his share in the capture of four Spanish treasure ships. After other commands as a captain and rear-admiral, he was promoted vice-admiral in January 1837 and posted to command the North America and West Indies station. He died of yellow fever in 1839, at St Thomas, Jamaica.
Colls was a marine painter who exhibited pictures at the British Institution, 1852-54, from an address in Camden Town but practised for a longer period. His work is competent and attractive, and he was certainly prolific since examples regularly appear on the market. His dates were not known until about 2004 when a genealogical web posting stated that he was born in 1812 at Horstead, Norfolk, (on the outskirts of Coltishall), into a family with a local history as owners of water mills. His grandfather was John Colls, miller and farmer, who with H. P. Watts rebuilt Horstead Mill in 1789, was its part owner until 1797, and died in 1806. He had a son, Richard, who became a flour merchant for the family product in London. The latter’s eldest child, also Richard (1802-80) was a still-life painter and photographer; Ebenezer – born on 1 July 1812 – was fourth child and second son and the sixth child and youngest boy was Lebbeus (1818-97) who became a Bond Street picture dealer and gallery owner. Ebenezer was both a picture dealer and an artist. How his artistic career began is unclear but he initially went to sea as a midshipman in the East India Company, which explains where he gained knowledge of ships. He made three eastern voyages, first in the Indiaman Rose (955 tons) from May 1828 and then two more in the larger Edinburgh (1326 tons) from March 1830 and May 1832 respectively. After leaving the sea he apparently made regular summer visits to the Channel Islands to sketch, and also along the south coast and to the naval ports.
In January 1841 in the Thanet area (in or near Ramsgate) he married Harriet Beal and they had four daughters and three sons who figure in the St Pancras, London, census returns of 1851 – 81: Richard, the eldest son (1844-1920), became a bookseller. Walter (1857-1938) became a clerk and Henry (1847-83) also a bookseller and later hotel keeper in Brighton, though not a successful one since he eventually went bankrupt. Ebenezer’s eldest child, Harriet (1842-88), initially taught music and Sarah (1846- 1919) became an accountant and later ran a private school in Hampstead. The third and fourth daughters were Isabella (1849-85) and Florence (b.1865). In the 1851 census Ebenezer’s profession is given as ‘picture dealer’; in that of 1861 ‘marine painter’; in 1871 he was living on ‘ “Dividends” ‘ (with the landscape painter, Edmund Gell, a boarder in his house) and in 1881 he is again called ‘artist’. His final address from before 1871 was 79 King Henry’s Road, Regent’s Park, and he died there aged 75 on 23 September 1887 (‘Morning Post’, 28 September). His widow died at the same address on 2 December 1916, her age being given as 94, which suggests birth in 1822 though she was only baptized at St Laurence, Thanet, on 25 December 1825.
A significant correction in this revised note is that the marine painter Harry Colls (1856- c.1908), and his brother Walter Lebbeus Colls (1860-1942), engraver and photographer, both of whom had successful artistic careers, were not Ebenezer’s children but his nephews, sons of his brother Lebbeus, who had seven children in all.
(* Edward Paget’s Memoir of the Hon ‘ble Sir Charles Paget… was originally privately printed in Toronto in 1911, with his own autobiographical reminiscences appended. The 1913 London edition omitted most of these and included further information, especially on the matter of the ‘Gallant Rescue’, from further information he gathered on a visit to England in 1912.)
The Eddystone Lighthouse is on the treacherous Eddystone Rock off the south coast of Devon, about 18 miles from Plymouth. There has been a lighthouse on this reef since 1698. The first was built by Henry Winstanley and was an octagonal structure made of wood. It lasted until 1703, when it was destroyed in that year’s Great Storm: Winstanley himself was among those swept away in it.
John Rudyerd was then commissioned by Captain (later Colonel) John Lovett – who held the lease – to design a new lighthouse, which was built as a conical wooden structure around a core of brick and concrete. It was first lit in 1709 and lasted until burnt down in 1755, after a spark from one of the candles used to illuminate it set fire to the top of the lantern.
Rudyerd’s Eddystone Lighthouse became the first successful offshore-rock lighthouse in the world. Sailmaker’s view includes four war ships identified by Lovett in 1708 as the Roebuck 42 guns, on the left, together with the Charles Galley, 36 guns, the Swallow, 32 guns and the ketch Aldborough, 24 guns, on the right. All these attended on the construction of the lighthouse, while those beyond bear the flags of the countries who contributed financially to the project. Plymouth harbour is visible in the background.
The National Maritime Museum acquired the oil painting of Rudyerd’s Eddystone Lighthouse by Isaac Sailmaker (1633-1721) in 2000, with major grants from the Macpherson Fund of the Society for Nautical Research, the Art Fund and its own Friends organization. The painting is important for its subject and for the artist. Sailmaker was a contemporary of William van de Velde the Younger and, like him, a Dutch immigrant who came to work in England before 1710. He is now known to have done four versions of this painting for Lovett but this one proved important in identifying his artistic hand, when it was first lent to the Museum in 1971. Until then there was no clearly documented painting by Sailmaker, who did not generally sign his work. An engraving of one of his Eddystone versions, naming him as artist, was published in 1733, proving the subject was by him and allowing firmer identification of other compositions hitherto only thought to be. In 1991 the owner took back the one lent to the Museum, however, and it was only after his death that we were able to acquire it permanently.
The painting is in oil medium on a linen canvas support measuring 1240mm x 1006mm. Overall it is in good condition, the original paint having been quite smoothly applied with a little impasto in the clouds and waves. The craqueleure is fine and even.
This photo shows it before conservation treatment. Paintings are always photographed and their condition documented before any work is undertaken.
The natural resin varnish layers, which were originally clear, had become very discoloured over time. The surface was also dirty, probably with soot from candles or an open fire, which obscured the colours and detail. In addition, the paint layers were loose and flaking in some areas, which can be caused by changes in the environment as high humidity or dry conditions make the canvas relax or tighten. This movement can eventually weaken the adhesion of the paint to the canvas, making it loose and, at worst, starting to fall off.
It is important that these weak areas are consolidated before any further treatment is undertaken. This photograph shows small pieces of tissue which have been impregnated with a suitable adhesive and laid over the loose areas of paint. A temperature-controlled heated spatula is used to gently warm the adhesive and reattach the flaking paint. The areas of tissue are then removed.
When the paint layers are stable the surface dirt can be removed. This is the layer of pollutants that lie on top of the varnish layer. The dirt can be nicotine, soot or straightforward environmental grime.
The natural resin varnish layers themselves can also be removed without damaging the original paint layer below. This photo shows a detail of the lighthouse during cleaning. Since most pictures of this age have been cleaned in previous centuries, by harsher methods than used today, the paint layers here show slight wear but the ships’ rigging is in good condition.
After the painting has been cleaned a synthetic varnish is applied with a brush, before final retouching, to protect the original paint. This is a specially made conservation varnish, which will not discolour and will remain easy to remove with a mild solvent.. Small areas of damage are then retouched with the same resin and dry pigment.
The final photograph shows the painting after conservation treatment has been completed.
The painting has now been reframed, glazed with low-reflect glass and the back of the frame fitted with a sealed backboard. This will protect the painting from climate changes and from dirt in the atmosphere, and will ensure that it looks as fresh in 100 years as it does today
The picture has been requested for loan to Chatham Historic Dockyard for display, in their new exhibition gallery in the No 1 Smithery, where most of the Museum’s ship models will also be rehoused later this year in a joint project with the Dockyard and the Imperial War Museum. The gallery will open to the public on 20 July 2010.
About three years ago, I had the interesting task of cataloguing the NMM sculpture holdings for Collections Online, though other photographic priorities have delayed publication. There are nearly 130 items, in marble, terracotta, plaster and bronze: most are portrait busts, with some significant works by major artists.
One is a fine Italian bronze of Galileo (1564-1642), long ascribed to Pietro Tacca (SCU0022). Tacca was pupil and assistant of the great Giambologna, and from 1608 his successor as sculptor to the Medici court in Florence, where Galileo was also court philosopher, mathematician and astronomer from 1610. In 2009 we lent this to an exhibition in Pisa (Il Canocchiale e il Pennello – ‘the telescope and the paint-brush’) which brought me into contact with Dr Federico Tognoni, one of a team working on a new edition of Galileo’s work, for which he is compiling a volume on Galileo’s portraits. In the exhibition catalogue Dr Tognoni reattributed the bust to Lodovico Salvetti – a lesser Florentine sculptor who is recorded as making two of them about 1666 (one intended for Louis XIV), copied from a Caccini bust of 1612 of which Galileo himself had approved. References which Dr Tognoni kindly supplied revealed other information we did not know, particularly that our bronze had been found in about 1906 in use as a garden ornament in the west of England by Max Rosenheim, a well known collector. We presume that Rosenheim established the Tacca attribution on stylistic grounds, since we have as yet found no record of him doing one. It was at least an astute ‘near miss’, for while even Salvetti’s dates are unknown he was a pupil of both Giambologna and Tacca, and we are happy to accept the new suggestion.
Galileo Galilei, attributed to Lodovico Salvetti (SCU0022)
Rosenheim died in 1911 and his collector brother Maurice in 1922, after which their holdings were dispersed in a number of London sales in 1923. We have yet to pinpoint when the bronze was sold, but know it quickly passed into the huge scientific instrument collection of George Gabb, which the Museum’s founding benefactor, Sir James Caird, bought in toto for Greenwich in 1937. With it came no less than four other portraits of Galileo which Gabb had collected. One is an even more dramatic Italian pear-wood reliquary bust of around 1700 (SCU0023). Like the bronze, this has not been displayed here for many years and its reliquary compartment holds a fragment of fringed velvet, thought to be from Galileo’s formal academic chair. Dr Tognoni has now provisionally ascribed it to the circle of Giovanni Battista Foggini, the most significant Florentine sculptor at the turn of the 17th/18th century and creator of the monumental tomb in Santa Croce in which Galileo’s remains were transferred in 1737.
Galileo Galilei, circle of Giovanni Battista Foggini (SCU0023)
The other three portraits are paintings. One is a perfectly competent Italian copy, dated 1879, of a well-known bust-length portrait of Galileo in old age (BHC2701). This is by Justus Sustermans (1597-1681), a Flemish artist who also worked in Florence as a Medici court painter: he did the original for Galileo himself in 1636, to send to a friend in Paris, but it has been in the Uffizi Palace, Florence, since at least 1678.
Galileo Galilei, after Justus Sustermans (BHC2701)
The second is the earliest surviving painting of Galileo, made when he was a mathematics teacher in Padua about 1602-07 (BHC2699). This is traditionally ascribed, apparently on the basis of an early 19th-century print, to the Venetian artist Domenico Robusti called Tintoretto (like his better known father, Jacopo): we have only in the last week discovered that an article published by Vincenzo Mancini, in the magazine ‘Padova e il suo territorio’ (February 2008), suggests much more convincingly that it is probably by a well-established Paduan artist, Francesco Apollodoro, though its pre-1914 history remains unknown.
Galileo Galilei, recently reattributed to Francesco Apollodoro (BHC2699)
The last is another portrait of Galileo in old age, about 1640, with an old Italian inscription on the back of the original canvas stating that it is by Sustermans and that it came from the Palazzo Pandolfini, Florence, for which family it is presumed to have been painted (BHC2700).
Galileo Galilei, by Justus Sustermans (BHC2700)
The complication with the Sustermans portraits, of which there are other versions and copies, is that they are usually rolled together as all based on the 1636 Uffizi one, without note of fairly obvious differences. The first is that the Uffizi version shows Galileo in a laced doublet, turned slightly to his left but looking alertly upwards to his right and, from the line of his shoulders, probably standing: the general effect is dynamic. The Museum’s shows him in a more robe-like garment seated in chair turned slightly to his right: his arms rest on its arms, raising his shoulders a little, and he holds a telescope in his right hand. Though the position of the head in both is almost the same his face is more sunken with age, and the effect is of almost hunched repose in which he looks quietly out and slightly down towards the viewer. This does not prove that he sat to Sustermans more than once, but it does suggest that the ‘Pandolfini-type’ portrait is likely to be one of the last painted of him, or even done just after his death. Whether it is the original, we simply do not yet know, but it was certainly done for a distinguished family and is in what appears to be its magnificent original Florentine frame.
Gabb fortunately noted that this portrait and the pear-wood bust were previously at Corsham Court, Wiltshire. A now much-visited independent country house, this has been home since the 18th century of the Methuen family and their notable collection, though much was dispersed in early 20th-century sales. It has good records and enquiry quickly elicited a photograph of about 1885 showing the bust standing in the lower corridor there. The exact sale through which it left is still for resolution, but a note in the 1903 Corsham catalogue records that it was at Christie’s in 1920 and that the bust’s purchaser was ‘Gubb’ (i.e. Gabb) for 58 guineas. That was also the price of the ‘Pandolfini’ Galileo oil when sold at Christies on 14 May 1920, to a purchaser calling itself the ‘Art Collections Association’, of which Gabb was perhaps a member or obtained it from. The Corsham catalogues also show the painting had passed – with many others – into the Methuen family in 1844, on the marriage of Frederick, later second Lord Methuen, to Anna Sanford. Her father, the Revd John Sanford, was a notable and large-scale collector who lived in Florence for five years up to 1837. Sanford was also a good record keeper: we therefore now know that, on 26 April 1833, he bought the picture and frame there, for 534 pauli (£12.10s) from the Marchesa Nimini – though who she was and its previous history remain a blank. It is likely the pear-wood bust was also a Sanford purchase, but that too remains to be confirmed.
You may well ask where all this leads. First, it is simply what museums do for the societies who are the real owners of the public collections they care for: these have often accumulated, over decades or even centuries, with imperfect information about many things in them, even objects recognized as ‘valuable’ in rarity or financial terms. Without upgrading such knowledge, however, it is not possible to judge anything’s real significance: museums also have tales – which they usually try to avoid telling in public – about serious mistakes made through not doing so. Second, the present examples show there are still significant gaps to fill on this small ‘galaxy of Galileos’, including their fuller histories, and the relationships of the various versions and copies by or after Sustermans. Is ours really what we think and hope it is? How can we know without knowing more about the others, of which there is as yet no full list or critique?
Finally, despite all five items having entered the Museum en bloc in 1937, the year it first opened, no one yet seems to have spotted a very simple point. Even setting aside the 19th-century copy, they appear to be the largest and best single holding that exists of contemporary or near-contemporary portraits of this towering scientific figure. It is certainly unique in Britain and any museum or art gallery, world-wide, would count itself lucky to have just one of them. The ‘Pandolfini’ portrait has been hanging in the Queen’s House and the (now) ex-Robusti at the Royal Observatory, also part of the NMM, for some years. It is unlikely, however, that either – let alone both – of the superb busts will be displayed until 2012/13 when the Museum plans an exhibition on the history of astronomy: a case, perhaps, of ‘not before time’!