Geoff Hunt PPRSMA explains the stories behind his stunning paintings of warships which will be on display as part of the Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition (11 to 20 October). From researching maritime commissions to marine artists from history, Hunt reveals what inspires him to put brush to canvas.
I received a commission via the Mall Galleries to paint a Nelsonic subject, and in conversation with the client it emerged that he was interested in a storm scene. I thought at once of the sequel to the battle of Trafalgar, when the battle itself was followed by days of storms, while the crews of dozens of badly-damaged ships from both fleets tried to save their ships from being driven ashore while coping with many hundreds of badly-injured men. Survivors spoke of the storms being worse than the battle.
I followed my usual research procedure, going back to the original sources, the ships' logbooks, most of which are in the National Archives at Kew. Three of the big beasts of the British fleet were all so badly disabled that they were under tow for long periods by other ships, some of which were themselves damaged. Nelson's flagship Victory was towed by Euryalus, then Polyphemus, then Neptune. Collingwood's flagship Royal Sovereign was towed by Neptune and then Mars, while the famous Temeraire was towed by Sirius and then Defiance.
I produced three alternative sketches for the client, each one featuring a different pair of these ships, and the one he chose was that which included the Temeraire. However the other two sketches were almost as dramatic and interesting, and I chose to paint one of these for the Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition (11 to 20 October).
The Trafalgar Storm - HMS Mars standing by Royal Sovereign by Geoff Hunt PPRSMA: Oil, 64 x 89 cm - £18,500
This one shows HMS Mars standing by the dismasted Royal Sovereign, Admiral Collingwood's flagship. Mars had been towing Royal Sovereign for two days up until just before the scene depicted in this painting, when the towing cable parted. Shortly after this the Mars, which had been in the thick of the fighting at Trafalgar, and whose Captain Duff had been killed, was herself dismasted. But both ships eventually reached harbour safely.
When I left the RSMA Presidency in 2008 one of the parting gifts I received was a fascinating book, M.K. Barritt's Eyes of the Admiralty, a profusely-illustrated account of the episode in 1799-1800 when the marine artist John Serres was attached to the Channel Fleet (no doubt we would now say that he was 'embedded') to record the Royal Navy's very arduous year-round service blockading the French fleet in its main base at Brest and elsewhere. I am indebted to Serres for his wonderful work and drew heavily upon it for this painting.
Morning Reconnaissance - Looking into Brest, June 1800 by Geoff Hunt PPRSMA: Oil, 64 x 89 cm - £18,500
Part of the duty of the watching ships posted closest inshore was to venture each morning at first light into the approaches to Brest itself, close enough so that sharp-eyed lookouts armed with telescopes up at the mastheads could see the French fleet at anchor in the inner harbour. They would then count these ships, to make sure that none had slipped out under cover of darkness, and note their states of readiness (if the yards were 'crossed' it meant that they were preparing for sea). This hazardous duty was carried out by one or two frigates, accompanied by small vessels such as cutters whose weatherliness and shallow draught meant that they could work even closer inshore.
H.M. cutters Joseph and Lurcher in the Goulet, 1800 by Geoff Hunt PPRSMA: Watercolour, 46 x 53 cm - £1,450
H.M. cutters Joseph and Lurcher in the Goulet, 1800 continues the theme of the Brest blockade, showing two of the cutters tasked with this duty. These were very small vessels by the standards of the day of about 100 tons, with forty or so men on board and just one commissioned officer, a lieutenant. Joseph is of particular interest because she was commanded by Lieutenant Lapenotiere, a very capable but low profile officer of great seagoing experience who spent most of his career in such small vessels. He would have remained quite unknown outside the Navy had he not momentarily come into the public eye when in 1805, while in command of yet another small vessel, the schooner Pickle, he was entrusted to carry home the first account of the battle of Trafalgar.
These paintings will be on display at the Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition (11 to 20 October). They are also available to purchase before the exhibition. For more information about purchasing or commissioning a work, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 020 7930 6844.