Prisoner of War Hulks in Portsmouth Harbour, circa 1808-1814


Prisoner of War Hulks in Portsmouth Harbour, circa 1808-1814

c. 1808 to c. 1814 Greater London

Offered by Julia Korner Fine Art

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The view is southwards with Portsmouth and its Dockyard to the left and Gosport to the right. Alternate ports are open on the gun-decks and below them can be seen the scuttles cut near the waterline to ventilate the orlops. The sheds on stilts within the vessels themselves were used as day-time stores for prisoners' hammocks. A small sailing vessel in the foreground to the right of the hulks is characteristic of Garneray's style of the time. This particular depiction was almost certainly painted on board the Vengeance between 1808 and 1814
indistinctly signed lower right.
One of a series of paintings of this subject by the artist whilst a prisoner on board one of the hulks.
Three paintings from this series are in the National Maritime Museum, London; Two (a pair) are in the Museum and Art Gallery, Portsmouth; and one is in the National Library of Australia, Canberra and
the Lloyd Collection
Although he rarely signed his early paintings, Garneray's style is unmistakably French in execution and style. It is possible that there may be as many as fifteen in the series depicting the panorama of Portsmouth harbour, from the north with the line of prison hulks. All of them have the same format. Since he was a prisoner of war, Garneray struggled to find the right materials; thus many of the paintings have a central seam, where the pieces of canvas were hand stitched to create a picture of size. Each depiction is individual in its composition, details, colouring, shore features and treatment of the sky. The quality is very high and the pictures from this unique series have been described as outstanding and, indeed, as a fascinating document of life in those times. They are all the more remarkable, given the conditions in which they were executed.

Ambroise-Louis Garneray is counted amongst France's greatest marine painters. Born and died in Paris, he was the son of the painter Jean François Garneray who let him go to sea in a man-of-war commanded by a cousin, at the age of thirteen. In 1795 he was in the Indian Ocean and served in La Confiance, a privateer commanded by the renowned Robert Surcouf. Years later he was to execute a series of paintings of her taking the East Indiaman Kent in 1800, perhaps when Garneray himself was aboard. After a few years abroad he returned to the navy and was shipwrecked in the Atalante near the Cape of Good Hope in 1805. He was transferred to the frigate Belle Poule, prior to her capture in 1806. He was consigned originally to the hulk Prothée in Portsmouth harbour and remained a prisoner until the abdication of Napoleon in 1814.

He later described his life in the hulks in a book called Captivité de L.G. Conditions were grim and many of the prisoners turned their hands to a trade to make money to buy necessities as well as luxuries. The best known products of the prisoners were bone ship models, but Garneray, who had received some instruction in painting before he went to sea, determined to take it up again; he began with portraits. He executed a series of views of Portsmouth harbour from the north, with the lines of prison hulks in the foreground. In 1813 a planned escape to France failed and he spent his last few months stripped of privileges and in great privation. Once returned to France, he became a professional marine painter and he exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1817. In 1833 he became the Director of the Museum of Fine Arts at Rouen and in 1852 was created a Chevalier de Légion d'Honneur.

Lined, with some re-touching
with the Rutland Gallery, London

'The Floating Prison – The Remarkable Account of Nine Years' Captivity on the British prison Hulks during the Napoleonic Wars, 1806-1814' by Louis Garneray (published 1851; 2003)
Height 52.00 cm (20.47 inches)
Width 103.00 cm (40.55 inches)
oil on canvas
indistinctly signed lower right
Julia Korner Fine Art

Julia Korner Fine Art

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