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 Waterman at Portsmouth Point’ (November 1774)

By Gabriel Bray, (1750-1823)

This is the second portrait of a waterman by Gabriel Bray that has been published in the Society’s online art archive. The first can be seen here.

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. This image of a waterman in Portsmouth is signed and dated ‘Nov 74’ and was thus made just before Bray sailed for the Caribbean. Such images of the people who occupied the everyday maritime world of the eighteenth century are exceptionally rare.

You can read more about Bray and see more of his work here and a Lieutenant’s Log for Bray’s Journey to the Caribbean in 1774 survives  at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. The archival link is here. The Captain’s Log also survives at the National Archives in Kew, Ref: ADM 51/667.

The social history of watermen is little studied, but the Society published an important article on Mersey Watermen in The Mariner’s Mirror in 2012. Read it here.