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THE SEA PAINTER’S WORLD THE NEW MARINE ART OF GEOFF HUNT

Geoff Hunt PPRSMA


To my friends, past, present and future. To repeat the acknowledgement I made in The Marine Art of Geoff Hunt, most of the paintings illustrated in this book are now in private collections. To save tedious repetition I have omitted this fact from nearly all the picture captions. All the same, my very grateful thanks go to the many individuals concerned for buying my work and supporting not only myself, but this strand of marine painting. I hope my patrons and collectors will not be unhappy to find their own paintings here among good company. For my debt to other individuals, societies and organisations, they will, I hope, find themselves acknowledged at the appropriate place. Many of these paintings are available to purchase as limited-edition lithographic or giclée prints. These are credited throughout the book in the individual captions, and the various print publishers may be contacted as follows: Art Marine Ltd www.artmarine.co.uk Tel: 01747 871272 Pythouse Barn Tisbury Salisbury SP3 6PA United Kingdom Mystic Seaport www.mysticseaport.org 47 Greenmanville Avenue Mystic, CT 06355 U.S.A.

Richard Lucraft Limited Editions PO Box 25862 London N5 1GW Charles Mayes www.marineartists.co.uk +44 (0)20 7352 7759 Houseboat Artemis 106 Cheyne Walk London SW10 0DG United Kingdom

A Conway book © Geoff Hunt, 2011 © Introduction, James Taylor, 2011 First published in Great Britain in 2011 by Conway, an imprint of Anova Books Ltd, 10 Southcombe Street, London W14 0RA All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. Geoff Hunt has asserted his moral right to be identified as the author of this work. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data: A CIP record of this title is available on request from the British Library. ISBN 9781844861422 Distributed in the U.S. and Canada by: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. 387 Park Avenue South New York, NY 10016-8810 Reproduction by Rival Colour Ltd. Printed and bound by 1010 Printing Ltd., China.


CONTENTS

Introduction by James Taylor

the sea painter’s world

Painting In The Studio Working Outdoors

7 10 16 26

home waters

36 Case Study I : HMS Bulwark, 2005 Fleet Review 40 Case Study II : The Mary Rose 48

the mediterranean

Case Study III : Jack Aubrey’s Port Mahon In 1800

in the wake of admiral nelson

Case Study IV : The Battle Of The Nile

60 66 78 88

north america

102 Case Study V : Chasing The Rainbow 108

west indies and beyond

Case Study VI : Nelson In The Dragon’s Mouth

Bibliography Index Picture Credits

122 128 140 141 144


geoff hunt: artist voyager Affable, modest and hugely talented, Geoff Hunt writes as he talks – in an engaging manner, with a lightness of touch that cannot disguise serious intent. He recently sailed in the West Indies on board the sailing cruise ship Sea Cloud II, in a role he described as a ‘sort of lightweight naval historian and as a marine artist’. This and other voyages informed this work, providing inspiration and source material. In fact he could easily have pursued an academic career as a maritime historian, but fortunately for his fans he has steadfastly pursued his passion for marine painting. As such Geoff has now clocked up an impressive forty years as a freelance artist and designer. Previously he worked in advertising and as Art Editor for the long-running quarterly Warship, after graduating from Kingston and Epsom Schools of Art. Geoff places accuracy at the heart of his artistic work, whether his subject is historical or contemporary. The Sea Painter’s World includes ships of wood, iron and steel spanning more than five hundred and fifty years, ranging from Henry VIII’s Mary Rose, famous for capsizing at Portsmouth on 19 July 1545, to HMS Bulwark, one of the latest high-tech assault vessels of the modern Royal Navy, built by BAE Systems Marine in Barrow-in-Furness, and commissioned in December 2003. In his search for exactitude Geoff has been in close proximity with both the modern vessel and the aforementioned Tudor ship. Indeed, Geoff’s painting of the Mary Rose constitutes one of his major projects of the past decade. In February 2007, he was asked by Rear Admiral John Lippiett, Chief Executive of the Mary Rose Trust [MRT], to paint a reconstruction of the ship. After painstaking research the result, ‘ “Your Noblest Shippe”– Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose’ was finally completed in January 2009 (see page 48). For this painting he combined art skills with those of an historical detective. Similarly, Geoff was on board HMS Bulwark during the International Fleet Review at Spithead on 28 June 2005 that was arranged as a major public attraction, part of Sea Britain 2005, to mark the two-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. The Review consisted of over 170 ships from over 35 different countries. Queen Elizabeth II, as Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom, took nearly two hours to review the whole fleet.

HMS Temeraire, detail (left) Oil on canvas, 10 x 13 inches Limited edition print available

Universally praised for the eighteen jackets he produced to adorn the late Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels, a series that started for Geoff in 1988 with a brief to create images that would ‘not be ship portraits, nor battles, but closeups and views on-board ship that would re-create the Nelsonic navy in pictures with the kind of accuracy and intensity that the novels did in words’, followers of naval fiction will be delighted to find within these covers paintings of Jack Aubrey’s Minorca in 1800, HMS Sophie leaving harbour and HMS Speedy bringing the Gamo into Port Mahon (O’Brian based his fictional HMS Sophie on the 14-gun Speedy-class brig). Geoff also includes another example of his illustrative work; ‘The Continental Risque’, one of a series of book covers painted for the awardwinning American writer James L. Nelson’s Isaac Biddlecomb series of novels set during the American War of Independence (1775–1783). For admirers of the exploits and career of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, there is a dedicated chapter entitled ‘In the wake of Admiral Nelson’, which Geoff describes as a set of pictures deriving from ‘a voyage of the imagination into the lost world of the past’. Two spectacular case studies, ‘The Battle of the Nile’ and ‘Nelson in the Dragon’s Mouth’ feature alongside the striking paintings ‘Return to the Mediterranean’, ‘Trafalgar Dawn: enemy in sight from HMS Victory’ and the remarkable ‘The Heavyweight Punch’. The latter work utilizes an unusual and distinctive ‘telephoto lens’ effect. As Geoff explains, he has often ‘taken advantage of this kind of view in which the space between the objects is artificially compressed so that they all appear much larger, crowding in upon one another.’ As he comments later in the book, it is a viewpoint that did not exist before the twentieth century. This is just one of many ways in which Geoff brings a new, fresh and individualistic approach to the field of marine painting. Throughout The Sea Painter’s World he offers many insights into the tricks-of-histrade, many of a practical nature, explaining the joys and rigours of working outdoors in all weather conditions and providing a check-list of the types of kit and equipment that is required. His own plein air work is often produced on excursions with the Wapping Group of Artists, of which Geoff is an enthusiastic member. The Group had its origins in 1939, when members of the Artists Society and the Langham Sketching Club, meeting at the Prospect of Whitby pub in Wapping, decided to spend the summer months sketching together by the River Thames. Inevitably the Second World War intervened, but the same artists met again in 1946 to formally found the Group. The maximum number of members was set at twenty-five. The first President was Jack Merriott (1901-

THE SEA PAINTER’S WORLD  7


ch chapter a p t e r tone wo

homethe waters sea

painter’s world The English Channel, La Manche, the Narrow Seas; names for these shallow waters that barely divide England from France, where the mighty Atlantic surges in between Scilly and Ushant. They are the gateway between all of Europe and all of the oceanic world; they are still among the busiest seas in the world, and always will be until we find some other way of transporting bulk materials, or decide to give up trade altogether. Until the early nineteenth century, when ambitious engineering projects created the great breakwaters that made ports like Cherbourg possible, there were few good natural harbours along the Channel coasts. Those few were enormously significant – the Thames itself, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Le Havre, Brest. Over the narrow seas, England and France fought eight hundred years for their own survival and for mastery of the coasts, while all the while myriad merchant ships of all kinds and sizes swarmed in and out of every inlet, trading and working and fighting their own ceaseless battle against the power and danger of the sea itself. Long before Columbus sailed, frail northern cockleshells were trading to Iceland, and fishermen were pursuing their cod and their whales ever further westward. Sailors of Devon and Cornwall and Brittany, Hampshire and Normandy and Kent, learned their trade the hard way, just as they do today. This section ranges across geography and history, from modern yachts in the Solent to tea clippers racing neckand-neck from China; from Henry VIII’s flagship to the latest warships still under construction. The home waters turn out to be, after all, only one small corner of one world ocean.

HMS Hotspur off Brest, 1803 Oil on canvas, 22 x 30 inches, 2009 Limited-edition print available

THE SEA PAINTER’S WORLD  37


Blue Mermaid Oil on canvas, 16 x 12 inches, 2009 To lead us out gently from the waters of the Thames estuary in the previous chapter to the open sea here is a Thames barge, one of these classic small trading vessels – just like the one I painted in St Katharine’s Dock, surely? Well, not quite, for this old-timer is so new that she has not even been built yet. I painted this artist’s impression for The Sea-Change Sailing Trust, a charity dedicated to

38  HOME WATERS

taking to sea young and disadvantaged people who might otherwise have no chance of doing so, and the barge is one they are hoping to build. This picture was for the brochure to launch their fund appeal. She will be a faithful replica of the steel Blue Mermaid, which was the last Thames sailing barge ever built – until this appeal succeeds, of course.


Etchells 22s racing in the Solent Oil on canvas, 36 x 42 inches, 1993 The Etchells 22 is a well-known classic racing dayboat, fleets of which are found all over the world. This scene is set very much in home waters for me – the Solent off Cowes, the inevitable Royal Yacht Squadron visible between the tacking boats. I have never raced seriously, preferring my boats to belong to that sort where you can easily make a cup of tea if you want to, but I can see the

appeal, both in the competitiveness and in the pleasure of getting the very best out of your boat. It is a fearsome thing to crew for a keen racing skipper and on the only occasion I crewed aboard an Etchells I felt not so much like the third hand as the fifth wheel.

THE SEA PAINTER’S WORLD  39


case study i : hms bulwark, 2005 fleet review

HMS Bulwark at the International Fleet Review, 28 June 2005 Oil on canvas, 20 x 33 inches, 2005 Limited-edition print available

40  HOME WATERS


In 2005 the Royal Navy held a Fleet Review at Spithead – probably the last it will ever hold involving a large number of ships. It was essentially to commemorate the two-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, as part of a wider celebration, Sea Britain 2005. It was also an international event – and in fact the largest warship present, the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, was there to represent the other side in that historic battle. Very fortunately I then happened to be in the middle of my term as President of the Royal Society of Marine Artists so this was an ideal opportunity for me to get the Society involved, and we finished up placing twelve artists aboard various ships – the Royal Navy’s amphibious force flagship Ocean, the brand-new

assault ship Bulwark, and the aviation training ship Argus, not to mention the Sail Training Association’s Royalist, and Trinity House’s Patricia. We all had a splendid day, and one of our number came away from the day with rather more than she could ever have expected, in the form of her future husband. For myself I decided to choose Bulwark, partly to avoid being aboard the flagship Ocean because I could visualize the media scrum there, having participated in similar events before, and partly because I was interested to see this very new ship. I had company in the form of a fellow artist, Paul Banning, but we were the least important of the guests aboard, since the others were children and carers from a hospice charity, and a group of sea scouts. Paul and I travelled out to 1.1

THE SEA PAINTER’S WORLD  41


Calvi waterfront from the citadel (right) Watercolour sketch on site, 9 x 12 inches, 2010 I was pleased with these sketches, each necessarily done in a very brief time because Sea Cloud’s schedule was pressing and we had to move on. Calvi seemed barely changed since I had been there thirty years before – like so many of those apparently timeless Mediterranean ports. But that may just reflect the building style and materials rather than real age. Maybe you can no more tell the age of a Mediterranean seaport building by looking at it than you can, say, a neat white timber house in New England. The only real concession to the twenty-first century became apparent when wandering down the side-alleys: every building now sprouted air-conditioning units on the end walls. The sketch at Collioure was done while I sat at a café table, chatting with Brian Lavery and his family, before we set out to visit Patrick O’Brian’s house up towards the vineyards above that delightful small town. Apart from being Patrick’s home, Collioure and that stretch of Catalan coast provided him with several of the scenes and other references that appear in the first Jack Aubrey novel. One thing Calvi has in common with Collioure is the gigantic height of their citadel walls, which must be upwards of eighty feet high on the seaward side.

The fortress, Collioure (below) Watercolour sketch on site, 9 x 12 inches, 2010

62  THE MEDITERRANEAN


THE SEA PAINTER’S WORLD  63


HMS Amphion leaving Valletta, 17 June 1803, Lord Nelson aboard Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches, 2009 This painting was commissioned by a client who was interested in a subject having a Nelson connection without wanting anything like the battle of Trafalgar, and we eventually settled on this tranquil scene, if putting to sea can ever be considered tranquil, in which the frigate Amphion is leaving Malta to carry Nelson to the Toulon blockade, where HMS Victory is to be found. As so very often, the working day begins with the change of watch at 4 a.m., in the dark, to quote Amphion’s Master’s logbook: ‘… at 4 Unmoord and Hove Short Warped out of the Harbour of Valletta …’ but I was sure that, by the time they had actually done this, it would be daylight on a beautiful day, again: ‘… Moderate and fine weather …’ and so this painting came about. I am not actually certain whether the ship would have flown Nelson’s Vice-Admiral’s flag as shown, since I suppose he was technically a passenger, but Nelson being Nelson I rather think it would.

THE SEA PAINTER’S WORLD  75


c chapter h a p t e r fo one ur

in the the wake sea of admiral nelson

painter’s world

As must be apparent from most of the other sections of this book, I find it difficult to escape the ghost of Nelson wherever I have been – at Portsmouth, in the western Mediterranean, in the West Indies – even where I live and work. For his house at Merton Place, or perhaps more accurately Emma Hamilton’s house, since Nelson was hardly ever there, occupied a fairly modest estate whose northsouth axis almost exactly corresponds with the present patch of London that extends between my house and my studio, although I had no idea of this when I moved here. In Nelson’s day Merton was not considered part of London at all, but a country village where, as he himself dreamed, a naval gentleman might retire among his sheep and chickens. There is no surviving trace of the house or the estate, perhaps appropriately for a man whose true existence was written out upon the waves. Indeed, in the period before Trafalgar Nelson had at one point lived aboard HMS Victory for two years without once setting foot on shore. Unlike the other sections in this book, this one does not really represent a geographical area at all, nor can I claim to have sketched any part whatever of these scenes from life. But it seemed to want to be placed here, naturally carrying forward the story of Nelson’s activity in the Mediterranean, then out through the Straits of Gibraltar to Trafalgar, from where we can easily set sail across the Atlantic to the following section. So this is mainly a voyage of the imagination into the lost world of the past, as I pick up the career of Nelson where it finally takes fire, with his command of HMS Agamemnon, and follow in his wake.

HMS Victory Oil on canvas panel, 13½ x 18 inches, 2004 [from the series ‘Fighting Sail, 1773–1815’] Limited-edition print available

THE SEA PAINTER’S WORLD  79


6.4

Trinidad. He promptly followed, arriving off that coast on the evening of 7 June. There ensued something of a comedy of misunderstanding. The British army garrison on shore took Nelson’s fleet for the French, of which they too had had intelligence, so they set fire to some buildings in order to deny them to the enemy. The British fleet offshore saw the smoke, assumed it was the French doing the burning and that the French fleet must therefore be anchored off Port of Spain. Nelson seems to have been expecting to fight a repeat of the Battle of the Nile that very night, for he ordered his ships to prepare

6.5

to anchor by the stern, exactly as he had done at the Nile, and pressed on towards the port in the evening light. But Villeneuve had never been there at all; so, gathering what information he could, Nelson resumed the pursuit the following morning, the scene On the fourth day our destination was Port of Spain, Trinidad, when we woke to see

of this painting. The two fleets missed each other by a narrow margin, and Nelson and

the high ground of Paria looming to starboard, looking huge and mountainous after

Villeneuve were not to meet finally until October of that year, off Cape Trafalgar. It is

the days of desert islands. The entrance to the Gulf of Paria itself is marked by a chain of

curious to think that the great battle between these two adversaries could well have

teeth-like mountainous islands with navigable channels either side of them, the whole

taken place in these West Indian waters, in which case, had Nelson prevailed, Trafalgar

feature known very appropriately as the Dragon’s Mouth. I was on deck, of course,

Square in London would presumably be known today as Trinidad Square, or perhaps

busily photographing the whole sweep of coast, from which I would later assemble a

Antigua Place, or Barbados Circus.

panoramic view for reference. 6.4 We were off this coast between 10 and 11 in the morning – the time of day when Nelson’s fleet had emerged, 203 years earlier. So let us now

As far as the painting went, a number of small pencil sketches 6.5 led me to a reasonably

pick up the history once more.

satisfactory colour sketch. 6.6 Because I wanted to show the panoramic background of the Dragon’s Mouth, which after all featured strongly in the title and which I was so

Villeneuve had been sent to Martinique as part of a grand strategy designed to concen-

glad to have seen for myself, that more or less dictated a wide-angle painting and indeed

trate a combined French and Spanish fleet and eventually achieve an overwhelming

the whole look of the piece. The progression from the colour sketch to the finished

naval force in the English Channel. Arriving at Martinique, Villeneuve’s fleet captured

painting seemed quite straightforward, but I thought I would just double-check one

the ‘sloop’ HMS Diamond Rock (a six-hundred-foot sliver of rock rising sheer out of the

piece of information: the direction of the sun. It was true that both myself and Nelson

sea, which the British had very unsportingly landed upon, manned, and armed with

had been there in the middle of the morning, but I had been there in January whereas

cannon). While waiting for other elements of this fleet, he was directed to attempt the

he had been there in June. To my surprise the direction of light was different; somehow

capture of the islands of St Vincent, Antigua, and Grenada. But on capturing a large

I had thought it would not make much difference so close to the equator, but there it

British convoy, he learned that Nelson was close behind him. He decided to abandon

was; and in the finished painting I was obliged to make the necessary change.

the West Indies and return across the Atlantic. Nelson had indeed arrived, being at Barbados on 4 June 1805, to learn that elements of the French had been sighted, but the sighting was misinterpreted and he drew the conclusion that they must be heading for

130  WEST INDIES AND BEYOND

TOP:  A panoramic view of the Dragon’s Mouth.


6.6

INSET OPPOSITE:  Preliminary pencil sketch. ABOVE:  Preparatory colour sketch for ‘Nelson in the Dragon’s Mouth’.

THE SEA PAINTER’S WORLD  131


Pacific Haven: refitting HMS Lydia on Coiba Oil on canvas, 22 x 30 inches, 2010 Limited-edition print available Hornblower’s first and only frigate command was the Lydia (the novel describing this commission, The Happy Return, was in fact the first Hornblower novel that C.S. Forester ever wrote). I don’t think I give away much of this story by saying that at one point the Lydia, having been damaged in action with the enemy, finds herself off a hostile coast, the Panama coast of Spanish America, with no friendly harbours available and an urgent need to make repairs. Finding an uninhabited island, Hornblower has the ship careened. This operation, quite

often resorted to by all classes of ship except the very largest in those days when dry-docks were very scarce, was an incredibly laborious process which involved taking almost everything out of the ship - all the hundreds of tons of stores in the hold, the guns, everything possible - and striking down the topmasts and spars, before attaching strong cables from the lower mastheads to strong-points on shore and bodily hauling the ship over. It was then possible to get at the underwater hull on the exposed side.

THE SEA PAINTER’S WORLD  133


HMS Leopard flying from the Waakzamheid Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches, 2007 Now we move into wider waters, in fact the next scene is about as wide as waters get. I was asked by a client to work on an idea from the great chase scene in Patrick O’Brian’s Desolation Island, the epic pursuit of HMS Leopard by the Dutch 74-gun ship Waakzamheid in the huge seas of the Great Southern Ocean. After drawing a draught and rigging plan of Leopard (inset opposite), I proceeded with some small pencil sketches, which looked at the possibilities in the instant when Leopard first sights the Dutch ship, the reappearance of the Waakzamheid out of the dark squall to windward, or the long day of the tacking match, in which Leopard

134  WEST INDIES AND BEYOND

was eventually able to draw ahead of her opponent. A preliminary colour sketch (opposite) shows a later point in the pursuit, the two ships labouring in big seas and close enough to fire upon each other. But the final choice, as seen above, went to the dramatic moment when Leopard, having had one brush with the big Dutch ship and, as all on board believe, got clear away, sights her again: ‘… [Jack Aubrey] whipped round, and there in the west-north-west, directly to windward, emerging from a black squall with lurid light, he saw the Waakzamheid …’ (Patrick O’Brian, Desolation Island).

The Sea Painter's World  

The New Marine Art of Geoff Hunt

The Sea Painter's World  

The New Marine Art of Geoff Hunt

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