Royal Sovereign, Donegal, Royal Alfred & Marlborough in Portsmouth Harbour, 1876
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Overall: 69cm (27.2in) x 48cm (19in)
Oil on canvas. Signed ‘C.R. Ricketts’ lower left, dated ‘76’, and applied verso with the trade label of The Parker Gallery (est. 1750), Albermarle Street, London .
The artist’s inscription identifies these vessels from left to right as four mid-19th century warships in Portsmouth Harbour. The vessel in the distance on the far left is HMS Marlborough, a first-rate three-decker 131-gun screw-driven ship built in 1855. She served as the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet from 1858 to 1864, and returned to Portsmouth to become a supply and accommodation ship in 1870. Next is the broadside ironclad HMS Royal Alfred. Commissioned in 1867 as the flagship of the North America Station, she served six years until an engineering survey discovered her boilers were so badly corroded that she had to be laid up prior to sale in 1885. To starboard of Royal Alfred is HMS Donegal, a 101-gun screw ship launched in 1858. In 1865 she took the final surrender of the American Civil War when the commerce raider CSS Shenandoah struck the Confederate colours to her. Donegal was hulked in 1886 and was merged into the Torpedo School HMS Vernon. Lastly on the far right is the experimental turret ship Royal Sovereign. The first of her kind, she was commissioned for service in the English Channel, and was used for gun and turret testing and evaluation. She paid off in October 1866 and was attached to the naval gunnery school HMS Excellent until 1873.
The artist Charles Robert Ricketts (1838-1883) was the father of a leading exponent of Aesthetic movement, the flamboyant Charles de Soucy Ricketts, RA (1866-1931). Charles de Soucy Rickett’s biography describes him as the son of a retired naval officer and alludes to an artistic family home on the Continent and an aristocratic French mother. The truth is somewhat less glamorous. The painter of the present picture, Charles Robert Ricketts, was born in Chester Square, on the fringes of Belgravia. At eighteen he was commissioned into the Royal Marine Light Infantry in 1856 and served aboard the 98-gun HMS London. Placed on Half-Pay in 1863, he pursued artistic interests but was declared bankrupt in 1870 (London Evening Standard 7.9.1870). His occupation was given as ‘artist’ and his address as late of 13 Albert Road, Regents Park and presently of Westminster Chambers, Victoria Street. By this time he had fathered Charles de Soucy in 1866 while studying painting in Geneva. He married in a civil ceremony in London in January 1868 Hélène Cornelia Pia Diodata, who claimed to be the daughter of the Marquis de Soucy. A daughter was born the same year. According to the biographer of Charles junior, Hélène, who claimed to be a widow, was in fact a bigamist.