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Thomas Whitcombe 1753 – c.1824
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Thomas Whitcombe 1753 – c.1824

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A navy yacht flying the white ensign coming up to harbour in the Downs; a French frigate at anchor beyond; a rain shower approaching.


Oil painting on canvas 18 x 38 inches / 46 x 92 cm.


Thomas Whitcombe’s birth date in London is usually given (e.g. by E.H.H. Archibald) as c.1752, so he is presumably to be identified with the “Thomas Witcombe” (sic) who was born 16th November and baptised 9th December 1753 at St. James’s, Dukes Place. Little is known of his background and artistic training. In 1787 he was in Bristol and later travelled to the South Coast and the Channel Islands, numerous marine topographical views surviving from these dates. In 1789 he was touring Wales and in 1813 he went to Devon painting scenes around Plymouth harbour. During his career he also painted scenes showing the Cape of Good Hope, Madeira, Cuba and the Horn. It may well be that Archibald’s speculation (Dictionary of Marine Painters, p.233) that Whitcombe had first had experience of the sea is accurate: he “knew his ropes”.

His range of work embraced naval engagements, ship portraits, coastal scenes with shipping and ships at sea in fresh breezes and storms. The topography of the background is well observed and the depiction of the ships themselves detailed and technically correct, a legacy, presumably, of time spent in dockyards or onboard ship studying the subject matter.

Whitcombe exhibited at the Royal Academy 56 times between 1783 and 1824 and once each at the British Institute and the Royal Society of British Artists. Curiously very few of these paintings are of the Naval Actions for which he is best known today. He produced 50 such paintings which were reproduced in Jenkins’s “Naval Achievements…” and at least 100 other paintings which are documented by engravings.

He lived in London during his exhibiting career at addresses in Covent Garden and Somers Town, among others. Some exhibited titles include: ”Destruction of the Spanish floating batteries at Gibraltar, September 13, 1782 at night”, “East Indiaman off the Coast of Good Hope”, “The Victory sailing out of Portsmouth Harbour”, “The Trinity Yacht with a view of the light houses on the Caskets”.

His date of death is uncertain; it was certainly in or after 1824, the date of his latest exhibit at the Royal Academy, and the date on his latest recorded picture, A 42 gun frigate off Gibraltar: Squall approaching.

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