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Nicholas Pocock (1740-1821) - The Battle of St. Kitts, 1782
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Nicholas Pocock (1740-1821) - The Battle of St. Kitts, 1782

Measurements: Overall: 29.3cm (11.5) x 45cm (17.6in)

£2800

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Indian ink and water colour wash on paper. Size of image visible under verre eglomise glass  9cm (7.5in) x 34.3cm (13.5in). Contained in an ebonised and gilt wood frame.

The present water colour depicts the rear and centre of Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood’s fleet of twenty-two ships rounding up into the wind, firing broadsides into the French ships of Admiral de Grasse’s numerically superior fleet, and anchoring in ‘line of battle ahead’ in Frigate Bay on the eastern side of the Carribbean island of St. Kitts. Hood’s action fought on 25/26 January 1782 was a major reverse for France and the prelude to the rout of the French fleet at the battle of the Saints and the loss of de Grasse’s flagship the Ville de Paris three months later.

News of the naval victory off St. Kitts was particularly celebrated in the City of London and by Bristol merchants reeling from recent territorial losses and humiliating defeats suffered during the American War of Independence. In 1784 Alexander Hood (later Lord Bridport) commissioned Pocock to produce five large scale oil paintings to celebrate his brother Samuel’s achievements in the West Indies.  The first, and most impressive of the series, is Pocock’s 1784 depiction of the action off St. Kitts on 25 January 1782. Alexander it should be noted was flag captain to his brother in H.M.S. Barfleur (98-guns) which is shown at the centre of both works delivering devastation into the focal point of the piece the Ville de Paris. The composition of Pocock’s oil for Lord Bridport closely accords with the present water colour. The most immediate differences are the inclusion of wreckage and a boat’s crew in Indian ink rescuing men from the water in the near left foreground; the number of ships anchored in line ahead (10 in the oil - 13 in the watercolour); and the addition of Rear-Admiral Francis Samuel Drake’s flag at the masthead of one of the ships in the anchored van.

Though unsigned the present water colour bears the stylistic traits of Pocock’s work - one example being the use of shadow in the near ground to break up the expanse of sea; a technique used by 17th century Dutch maritime artists and adopted in Pocock’s case on the advice of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Pocock was generally noted for the technical accuracy of his scenes, this being due to his former career at sea, and, in the case of the Hood commission, by his voyage to St. Kitts as the commander of the Bristol merchantman Minerva in 1776. The present water colour very probably belonged to the group of preparatory works that were sold as Lot 25 by the London auction house Hodgson & Co. in 1913. These included a view from the island of the action in Frigate Bay supplied by an eyewitness (Dr. Cochrane) with notes for Pocock’s use and a copy of the engraving based on the same that appeared in volume 13 of  the Naval Chronicle. The following lot in the Hodgson sale included a drawing of the action from a different perspective on paper of a size close to that of the present water colour.

Sources:
Cordingley, D. (1986) ‘Pocock’, Conway Maritime Press in association with the National Maritime Museum.
Davies, R. ‘Nicholas Pocock’ in ‘The Old Water-Colour Society’s Club, 1927-28.’

 

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