DOMINIC SERRES R.A (BRITISH 1719-1793)
THE VAN AND REAR OF ALL HIS MAJESTY'S SHIPS AND TRANSPORTS, HAVANA
Signed and dated 1767, oil on canvas
61cm x 152cm (24in x 60in)
Provenance:The Kinnaird Estate, Perthshire
Note: The present painting depicts 'The Van and Rear of All his Majesty's Ships and Transports', stationed by Cuba, with 'The Pan or Cape Land of the Matanzes, at a large distance being a high Table-Land'. The expansive view was painted in 1767 to commemorate a substantial campaign to Havana during the Seven Years War. Cuba's capital was the centre of the Spanish possessions in the Western Hemisphere and an important hub for Spain's mercantile and military forces. Spain had increasingly allied itself with France in its colonial war against England and George III finally declared war on Spain in 1762. Amid great secrecy an enormous fleet of more than 180 was gathered, under the command of Admiral Sir George Pocock, and sailed sail through the dangerous Old Straits of Bahama, from Jamaica, to take Havana by surprise. The campaign was an utter success with Havan surrendering in the middle of August that year, but the city was returned the following year in the Treaty of Paris.
One of the lieutenants aboard the 66 gun man-of-war Orford was Philip Orsbright. He recorded in notes and drawings all the stages of the approach, siege and capture of the following weeks. Upon his return to England he approached Serres to use his detailed drawings and notes to produce a full set of paintings by 1764 which were then published as engravings in 1764-65 and offered for two guineas per set. The present work represents Plates I and II in the album 'The Van and Rear of All his Majesty's Ships and Transports' and was painted by Serres, probably as a commission from the family of Admiral Keppel. Another painting by Serres of the same date as the present work and related to the Havana campaign engravings, The Capture of Havana, 1762: the English Battery Before Morro Castle, is currently on view at the National Maritime Museum in London, on loan from a private collection. The present lot and the work currently hanging in London may have been commissioned by the same person in 1767.
The three frigates leading the van, and represented here are the Richmond by Capt Elphinstone, the Mercury by Captain Goodall and Alarm by Captain Alms. The ships on the right of the composition on the other hand are the Namur carrying Admiral Sir George Pocock, who led the naval campaign, Valiant with Hon Augustus Keppel and the Culloden by Captain John Barker.
The present painting and the Havanna series of paintings as a whole represent an important turning point in Serres's reputation and career. The Keppel family dominated the 'Havannah' campaign and following Serres's production of Orsbright's drawings, various members commissioned versions of certain views from the set to display in their country houses. Their example was later followed by other commanders and captains who also wished to commemorate their naval triumphs and chose Serres as the most fashionable and preferred marine painter in England.
The full set of twelve engravings of 'The Capture of Havannah, 1762.' is in the collection of the National Maritime Museum, London and only seven of Serres' paintings of this series, excluding the present one, have been known to scholars until now.
Sold for £78,050 (buyer's premium included)