Maritime Art

Sir Edward Pellew, Lord Exmouth (c.1797)

By Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830)

This portrait of Edward Pellew was purchased in 1997, the full cost being provided by the SNR’s McPherson Fund. Pellew was one of the Georgian Navy’s most distinguished officers.

By the time that this portrait was painted, Pellew had already been in the Navy for 27 years. He had joined in 1770, five years before the outbreak of the American Revolution, and swiftly made a name for himself, particularly at the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain in 1776. He was also present at the surrender of the British army at Saratoga in 1777.

At the outbreak of the French Revolutionary war, Pellew was now in command of his own ship and became famous for fighting the first single-ship action of the war, always a moment of intense national speculation and interest. In June 1793 Pellew’s frigate Nymphe captured the French Cleopatre off the coast of Devon. Four years later, roughly when this portrait was painted, Pellew again came to national attention when, now in the Indefatigable, he drove the French ship Droits de L’Homme ashore on to the Brittany coast. It is likely that this portrait, painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, the leading portrait painter of the Regency period, was commissioned to commemorate that action.

The exact date of this portrait is uncertain, but Pellew is shown wearing captain’s full dress uniform, 1795–1812, which indicates a date between 1795 and 1804 when he was promoted to rear-admiral.

The Society has published a number of articles in the Mariner’s Mirror that touch on Pellew’s extraordinary career.

For those interested in his image, this article from 1936 explores all known Pellew portraiture.

And this article, from 1941  explored Pellew’s most famous action, the Battle of Algiers of 1816, when Pellew destroyed the fortifications and ships of Algiers, and forced the Dey to release more than 3000 christian slaves.

Maritime Art Archive

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