A Grazing Horse
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.