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 cow, lying down

By Gabriel Bray, (1750-1823)

In 1991 The Society for Nautical Research purchased an album of 73 sketches by Lieutenant Gabriel Bray and donated them to the National Maritime Museum. 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.

This lovely image is signed and dated ‘May 74 AVprGB’ (to the life by Gabriel Bray). It was probably painted by Bray near his home in Kent (possibly in Deal) where he spent the summer before joining up with the Pallas that winter. In December the Pallas set sail for Africa under the command of William Cornwallis (1744-1819), who subsequently became a famous admiral. The voyage to Africa was to check on British resources committed to the slave trade as well as other British interests in West Africa.

Bray enjoyed painting a host of subjects he came across but perhaps his interest in cattle was keen because of his experience in the navy. Both salted and fresh beef were key parts of an eighteenth century sailor’s diet. The Society has published a number of articles tackling this complex subject. This article from 1984 explores the life of John Crane (1576-1660). John Crane was appointed victualler for the navy in 1635 from the household of Charles I. He was described as an honest victualler in an age when more men died of food poisoning at sea than from enemy action. For those interested in how this affected the naval infrastructure ashore, this article form 1985 explores the archaeology of the former Royal Mint, located just east of the Tower of London, which is shown to have been a depot and manufactory of victuals for the navy from 1560. Though individual warehouses were used for storage at Chatham from 1547, this was the first naval victualling depot and manufactory in England. By 1595 London, Portsmouth and Plymouth were expected to victual 12,000 men for a five-month expedition within just four months.