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: A Grazing Horse

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 image depicts a horse  – probably a riding horse from the docked tail – grazing and is signed ‘May 74 AVprGB’ (to the life by Gabriel Bray). The artist, Gabriel Bray, served as a second lieutenant on the 38-gun HMS Pallas between December 1774 and September 1775.  Read more about the Bray collection at the National Maritime Museum and see a Lieutenant’s Log for Bray’s Journey to the Caribbean in 1774. The Captain’s Log also survives at the National Archives in Kew, Ref: ADM 51/667.

It is assumed that Bray painted this whilst at home in Kent before being appointed to the Pallas for a voyage to Africa under the command of William Cornwallis (1744-1819). Cornwallis was sent to report on British interests in West Africa including the slave trade. The painting captures a moment of calm before Bray’s life was significantly changed by his experiences serving abroad.

The Society has published one other interesting article that mentions horses and artwork: an analysis of graffiti discovered on the walls of the fortified town of Brouage in France, facing the straights of Rochefort. The soldiers and sailors who garrisoned Brouage left memorials  crudely etched on stones. There are graffiti of weapons, harness, horses’ heads, fortifications, regimental names and badges. Under the vault of the Porte Royale, which opens on to the former quay through the middle bastion of the northern curtain, is graffiti carved by sailors of the ships that they knew.