Rare Image of H.M.S. Victory to be Offered at Bonhams Marine Sale

London – A rare and unusual naïve marine painting by S. Spilman is to be offered at The Marine Sale on 27 April at Bonhams Knightsbridge. A View of the Home Fleet at Spithead from Southsea Front, completed in 1803, depicts an early view of Spithead and features H.M.S. Victory and H.M.S. Kent, Royal Navy ships of the line, the former being best known for her role as Lord Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It has an estimate of £25,000-£35,000.

Ordered in 1758 and launched in 1765, H.M.S. Victory was designed by the naval architect Sir Thomas Slade, Surveyor of the Navy. Constructed from around 6,000 trees, she cost £63,176 and 3 shillings, and was designed to carry at least 100 guns. Victory's early service included the First and Second Battles of Ushant, as well as the Siege of Gibraltar. It was in May 1803 that Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson hoisted his flag on Victory, and on the 21 October 1805, led her to a triumph against the combined French and Spanish navies during the War of the Third Coalition (August-December 1805), securing her lasting reputation. She remains the world's oldest naval ship still in commission, with 244 years' service.

Unlike more commonly seen naïve paintings, which typically depict prize livestock such as pigs and sheep, Spilman's painting is not only an example of the unusual naïve marine painting genre, but one dating from the first years of the 19th century. The armorial on the side of the coach in the centre-left of the picture had traditionally been ascribed to Lord Howe, who had been Admiral of the Fleet. It is now believed that, depicting a woman inside the carriage, the arms are likely to be those of Lady Sophia Charlotte Howe (1762-1835), 2nd Baroness Howe, the eldest daughter of Lord Howe. A similar but unsigned and undated composition by Spilman is held in the British Folk Art collection at Compton Verney, Warwickshire.

Whilst the artist, S. Spilman (late 18th/early 19th century), is not recorded, many of the 'easel' maritime painters of the early 19th century, such as John Ward of Hull, began their careers in relative anonymity as painters working in private houses and theatres. Indeed, the elongated shape of the present work suggests that it may well have begun as part of a decorative scheme. It is possible that Spilman may have been a retired sailor, as the ships depicted are particularly well observed and accurately rendered.

Rhyanon Demery, Head of Sale, Marine Pictures, commented: "This painting by Spilman is a particularly rare example of the naïve genre, and boldly captures the romance of the great Age of Sail. While not much is known about the artist, it is evident from the quality of his work that he had a keen understanding of these marvellous ships. The panoramic dimensions of the composition evoke the excitement one must have had in watching from the safety of the land these titans sail by, defending England and her waters."

Other highlights of the sale include:

• Montague Dawson (British, 1890-1973), In Full Sail. Estimate: £30,000-£50,000.

• David James (British, 1853-1904), Plunging Seas. Estimate: £25,000-£35,000.

• Norman Wilkinson (British, 1878-1971), Garston, The LMS Merseyside Port. Estimate: £15,000-£20,000.

• Joseph Heard (British, 1799-1859), Douglas Bay, Isle of Man, c. 1840. Estimate: £15,000-£20,000.

14 April


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