A brief to paint a historical scene of Old Harry Rocks in Dorset is bought to life by Jenny Morgan RSMA.


Jenny Morgan, renowned for her accurate portrayal of historical vessels and mastery of painting water, became a member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists (RSMA) in 2009. This same year, coincidentally, Simon Hodgson first saw her work at a show in Cowes while sailing around the Isle of Wight, and was impressed by her oil painting of a Pilot Cutter. A collector of 18th and 19th century marine paintings, Simon was eager to turn a print from a book by Dominic Serres into an oil painting, so with the help of Mall Galleries art consultants, commissioned Jenny to bring his vision to life.

According to Jenny, ‘the scene typifies what one might view if about in Studland Bay in, say, circa 1790. This was a safe anchorage from westerly winds and shows a sloop-ship (main vessel centre) preparing to sail off on a mission once two officers have boarded, shown in the foreground where the ship’s boat is being rowed by seamen.’ To the left, a frigate (a 17th Century term for warships built for speed and maneuverability) approaches the bay to anchor and receive orders. The piece is infused with the anticipation and action of the Napoleonic Wars.

Not only is the scene historically interesting, but the setting of Old Harry Rocks, the most easterly point of the Jurassic coast and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, holds meaning for him. ‘I have known the chalk cliffs of this part of the Dorset Coast for most of my life. For the past twelve years, I’ve spent a great deal of time walking towards those cliffs and waking up seeing them in the distance. I am aware of the history of smuggling in the area: a history that continues today with Border Force Cutters anchoring under the cliffs where they are hidden from the view of the vessels crossing the channel. There are also memories of sailing there with my father, rowing ashore for a drink in the Bankes Arms and sailing back into Poole at dusk. Indeed, I taught my youngest daughter to sail under those cliffs, and both daughters have ridden horses along the beach. We have walked our dogs along the shore, and listened to the deer calling across the heath as the sun sets when no one else was around.’ It is an area Simon associates with significant and happy moments of his life.

Simon and Jenny share this tenderness for the stunning chalk stacks of Old Harry and Old Harry’s Wife. ‘I used to sail to Studland Bay and Poole during the 1970s so know the area well and have anchored many times in the same bay,’ says Jenny. ‘Sadly due to much erosion over the eras, all that remains of these stacks nowadays is a mere stump, but the bay is there off the Dorset Coast, an area of outstanding natural beauty ashore.’ Simon is pleased with the outcome of his commission and eager to find the perfect place for it to hang and remind him of the immense beauty and intriguing history Old Harry Rocks.

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By Anna Preston