HMS Collingwood off Bora Bora.

England: 1848.

Signed lower right, inscribed on stretcher, oil on canvas, unlined 514 x 722 mm; in original gilt frame.

Superb painting of the largest warship ever seen in the Pacific, by a great marine artist

The magnificent 80-gun battleship HMS Collingwood cruises to its anchorage at Bora Bora in 1845, the last deep-water harbour in the Society Islands to retain its allegiance to Britain. In the 1840s, rivalries in the Pacific nearly flared into open warfare after the French claimed Tahiti as a protectorate in the wake of the expulsion of two Catholic missionaries (the "Pritchard Affair"). The Collingwood had been sent out with two conflicting missions: to shore up British prestige at a time when the French outgunned them in the region, but also to ensure that war was averted.

The magnificent 80-gun battleship HMS Collingwood cruises to its anchorage at Bora Bora in 1845, the last deep-water harbour in the Society Islands to retain its allegiance to Britain. In the 1840s, rivalries in the Pacific nearly flared into open warfare after the French claimed Tahiti as a protectorate in the wake of the expulsion of two Catholic missionaries (the "Pritchard Affair"). The Collingwood had been sent out with two conflicting missions: to shore up British prestige at a time when the French outgunned them in the region, but also to ensure that war was averted.

The man appointed to command the Collingwood on this delicate mission was Sir George Francis Seymour (1787–1870), a resourceful officer, "successful in all his commands" (ODNB) and ultimately Admiral of the Fleet, the highest-ranking position in the entire Navy. His ship had been chosen just as carefully: not only was it regarded as one of the most beautiful in the Navy, it was, for its time, the largest British warship ever sent to the Pacific, dwarfing the two steam-vessels in the painting, HMS Salamander, and the French ship that was shadowing their movements, the Phaeton.

Seymour's diplomacy decisively altered the history of the Pacific, not least as a catalyst for the drive towards self-determination in Australian politics. Although acclaimed in England for his peaceful negotiations, Seymour's apparent inaction appalled the policy hawks in Sydney, who petitioned Queen Victoria for a military response.

Significantly, while the voyage is remembered for ceding Tahiti to French rule, the precise scene in the painting has a dramatic undercurrent, because Bora Bora was the last pro-British bastion in the Society Islands, the local chiefs refusing to formally submit to French government.

Seymour commissioned the painting in 1848, immediately after his return. Hitherto unattributed, it is now confirmed to be the work of the great naval artist Robert Strickland Thomas (1787-1853), who had been a Naval officer in his youth. His works are marked by superb realism, attention to the sorts of details that would please an Admiral (rigging, figureheads, precisely rendered ensigns) and a more than handy ability of suggesting the local features of a scene, as with the buildings clustered on the shore here. A number of his preparatory sketches are now in the Royal Museums Greenwich.

Provenance: Commissioned by Admiral Seymour personally, later with his third daughter Emily Charlotte (1825-1892), who had sailed with him to the Pacific. She married the second Baron Harlech, William Richard Ormsby Gore (1819-1904), then by descent, remaining at the family seat Glyn Cywarch, in Wales, until 2017.

Full catalogue and list of references available on request.

Price (AUD): $85,000.00  other currencies     Ref: #4504917

Condition Report