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.