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: Self-portrait of Lieutenant Gabriel Bray sketching in watercolours (April 1775)

By Gabriel Bray, (1750-1823)

This is just one of seventy-three sketches by Gabriel Bray that were preserved in an album and purchased for the National Maritime Museum by the Society for Nautical Research’s MacPherson Fund in 1991.

The artist, Gabriel Bray, served as a second lieutenant on the 44-gun HMS Pallas between December 1774 and September 1775 and undertook two voyages to report on British interests in West Africa including the slave trade.

The drawing is dated ‘April 75 AVprGB’ and shows Bray drawing a cutter at sea from memory.

It is a particularly valuable image for art historians as it clearly shows the watercolour equipment available in the period.

The Society published an article on Bray and his sketch books in the Mariner’s Mirror in 1995

…and the topic of his sketch, a cutter, has also been discussed several times in articles in the Mariner’s Mirror including this article from 1969 on the nature of the ‘cutter-brig’

…and this article from 1994 which explores a historic journey up the Columbia River in a cutter, built to the same lines as the replica cutters built for HMS Victory.