Two British men-of-war are shown in the central foreground in a squall. The ship in front is clewing up her main topsail and preparing to anchor while the ship half-concealed behind and to the right is at anchor, flying the flag of a rear-admiral and with a small boat under her stern. She has her gunports open on both decks. The ship in front has only her upper-deck ports open. Figures can be seen climbing the rigging. The British coastline is visible on the far right with a fortification flying the Union flag. This possibly shows the fort at Mount Edgcumbe, Plymouth. The proximity of ships to shore indicates that the artist may be marking a specific occasion. Other shipping is visible on the horizon. A two-masted lugger sails in the foreground with three figures on board, one of whom gestures towards the ships.
The painting is typical of the artist's interest in creating works showing stormy scenes, emphasizing dramatic effects. He was the son of Dominic Serres and although he began his career as a landscape painter he followed the pattern set by his father. He travelled to Paris, Rome and Naples before he succeeded his father as Marine Painter to George III in 1793. He favoured painting sea-pieces in the European tradition and after becoming Marine Draughtsman to the Admiralty in 1800 made drawings of the coasts of France and Spain published in his book, 'The Little Sea Torch', in 1801. In 1805 he also published 'Liber Nauticus', a treatise on marine draughtsmanship containing engravings of his father's drawings. He was eventually ruined by the bizarre and extravagant behaviour of his wife, a self-deluding fantasist who styled herself 'Princess Olive of Cumberland'. He died in debtors' prison, after creating a set of large watercolours recording his experiences there. The painting is signed and dated 'J.T. Serres, 1793' on the gunwale of the lugger in the left foreground.
John Thomas Serres
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