Maritime Art

The Society for Nautical Research helps to purchase important works of art for the National Maritime Museum. In the interwar years many private art collections were in danger of being sold abroad. Among them was the collection of over 11,000 maritime prints, drawings and paintings of the noted yachtsman and collector Arthur Macpherson. In 1927 the society launched a public appeal to raise the funds to acquire his collection. With the huge generosity of Sir James Caird the collection was purchased and formed one of the founding collections of the National Maritime Museum.

Macpherson had an encyclopedic attitude to art collecting and aimed to document every aspect of maritime history through pictures. The early Netherlandish paintings are particularly fine, including a late sixteenth-century allegory of the Ship of State and Abraham Storck’s ‘Shipping off Amsterdam’.

The surplus of the public appeal was used to create the Macpherson Collection Endowment Fund which continues to be used to assist the purchase of additional works of art for the museum. Among the works purchased are a large number of paintings, prints and drawings by the noted marine artist W. L. Wyllie and an album of drawings by Gabriel Bray from a voyage to Africa in 1775.

The following works of art are taken from the many hundreds acquired for the nation by the society. A new work will be published monthly.

Featured Piece: ‘England Expects’ [Nelson’s ghost in front of the Queen’s House, Greenwich] (1927)

By Sir Bernard Partridge (1927)

This framed drawing in the collections of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich shows a ghostly figure of Nelson standing in Greenwich Park, gesturing with his hat in his left hand towards the Queen’s House, now home to the National Maritime Museum’s art collection.

On the bottom of the mount is the caption

‘England Expects – It is hoped that through the generosity and patriotism of the public it may be possible to secure for the Queen’s House at Greenwich – which is about to be made into a National Naval Museum – the Macpherson collection of sea-pictures, the finest and most comprehensive in the world.

The drawing, published in ‘Punch’ on 16 November 1927, was part of the campaign led by the Society for Nautical Research to purchase the Macpherson Collection by public appeal. Sir Owen Seaman, editor of ‘Punch’, was a great supporter of the project. The artists, Sir (John) Bernard Partridge, 1861-1945, was a famous illustrator of the period and chief cartoonist for ‘Punch’ from 1901.

The collection would then go on to become the foundation of what became the National Maritime Museum. The entire collection was personally bought before the appeal reached its target by Sir James Caird who then gifted it in its entirety to the museum. The money raised in the appeal remained with the Society as the Macpherson Endowment Fund, which is still used to purchase works of art for the museum.

An article ‘National and Naval Nautical Museum‘ was published in the Mariner’s Mirror by Geoffrey Calendar in the summer of 1927 outlining the Society’s plans for the foundation of the museum.

Sir James Caird’s financial assistance in the purchase of art and artefacts relating to Nelson is itself the subject of a detailed article from the Mariner’s Mirror edition by Roger Quarm and published on the bicentenary of Trafalgar, in 2005: ‘Buying Nelson: Sir James Caird’s Gifts to the National Maritime Museum’

The use and manipulation of Nelson’s public image has its own long and fascinating history and is explored in an article in the Mariner’s Mirror from 2002 by Marianne Czisnik: ‘Nelson and the Nile: the Creation of Admiral Nelson’s Public Image.’