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Wlliam Anderson 1757-1837
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Wlliam Anderson 1757-1837

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An English 3rd-rate ship-of-the line (74 guns) in three positions off Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa, flying the Royal Nay ensign

 

Oil painting on canvas 33 x 51 inches in its original carved giltwood frame

 

Signed, and indistinctly dated lower right.

 

William Anderson was born in Scotland in 1757, though the precise details of date and place are elusive. He trained inially as a shipwright, but by the age of thirty was an accomplished and skilled marine painter and had settled in London. He seems to have applied himself to the study of the Dutch Old Masters of the Van de Velde school, since he produced numerous small works on panel which are strongly evocative of that style. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1787 from an address in Horsleydown Parish in Southwark, but by 1793 he was living in the altogether more salubrious semi-rural area of Lisson Grove in Marylebone, which was just beginning to be developed. It is reasonable to presume that this is a reflection of his commercial success since his pictures “sold well and still do” (E.H.H. Archibald, Dictionary of Marine Painters p.116). Anderson seems to have been on the periphery of artistic life in London: he was a pall-bearer at the funeral of Giuseppe Marchi, Reynolds’ favourite assistant, and in 1797 he was an unsuccessful candidate for Associate Membership of the Royal Academy. He appears only fleetingly in Faringdon’s Diaries, and seems to have had no part in the artistic controversies of the day.

His regular Royal Academy exhibitions continued annually until 1811, and then intermittently until his last in 1834. His best work was executed in the years 1790-1810, when the demand for marine paintings, during the Napoleonic Wars, was at an all-time high. Anderson painted many of the naval battles of the period, often commissioned by serving officers, and his work shows a meticulous attention to nautical detail allied to an accurate draughtsmanship and lively colouration. At this period, he ay be considered one of the leading marine artists of his generation.

Anderson and his wife Sarah were great friends of the landscape painter Julius Caesar Ibbetson (1759-1817) who also lived in Bell Street, Lisson Grove, and who had also been trained as a shipwright. Towards the end of his career, Ibbetson moved to Yorkshire, and it seems likely that Anderson visited him there. Certainly, Anderson was a considerable influence on the development of marine painting in the port of Hull, where a lively school developed in the early years of the 19th century, most notably in his encouragement of the best painter of that school John Ward (1798-1849).

The popularity and prestige of the large two-decker 74-gun Ships of the line (“74”) reached its peak during the French Revolutionary War when the British found that not only did they sail better than the stately three-decker but that by superior gunnery and training their two-deckers could be a match for any enemy warship, even three-deckers of over one hundred guns. In the long Franco-Spanish wars that stretch fro: 1689 to 1815 the British never lost a three-decker in action, but the French lost three in battle and one, the Commerce de Marseille 120, taken at Toulon in 1793. The Spanish lost seven, all in action: six of them fell to an English two-decker.

In 1782 the French Ville de Paris 104, their flagship at the Battle of the Saints, struck to the English three-decker Barfleur 98. At the Battle I St Vincent in 1797, two Spanish three-deckers, both flagships, were captured, the Salvadore del Mundo 112, by the Victory 100, and the San Josif 112, by the Captain 74, though other ships contributed. There was nothing above a 74 in Nelson fleet at the Battle of the Nile when the great French flagship L' Orient 120 was destroyed. When in 1801 a squadron under de Saumarez defeated a much stronger Spanish squadron, destroying two one-hundred-and-twelve-gun three-deckers, the San Hermenegildo and the Real Carlos, all the British ships were two-deckers. Three more enemy three-deckers, all Spanish, struck at Trafalgar. The Santissima Trinidad 136, the biggest ship in the world and a four-decker, struck to the Prince 98, but earlier in the action the captain of the Africa 74, seeing the great ship silent and apparently beaten, sent aboard a lieutenant to take the surrender. When this officer, Lieutenant John Smith, appeared on her quarter-deck he found that she had not struck. He therefore withdrew, unmolested. The Santa Anna 112 was taken by the Royal Sovereign 100, but was recaptured with her prize crew two days later. The third one, the Rayo 100, escaped from the main battle but was, captured at anchor off Lucar by the Donegal 74 three days later. In 1806 during Duckworth's action the Canopus 80 drove ashore the Imperial, a French one-hundred-and twenty-gun ship which became a total loss.

Napoleon Bonaparte was sent to St Helena in the Northumberland 74 after he had surrendered to the captain of Bellerophon 74. For years the very words seventy-four were synonymous to the British public with an invincible naval supremacy.