By Liberty Rowley, Marketing Manager
I grew up land-locked, but through watching Blue Peter, I have long been aware of the impressive heroism of Lifeboat crews. It seemed, as a child that Sea Rescue services were entirely funded by small children collecting milk bottle tops and posting them into Valerie Singleton/Yvette Fielding/Anthea Turner/Konnie Huq (depending on your age). As an adult, it is even more amazing when you realise that the RNLI is indeed entirely funded by donations and staffed by volunteers. No wonder they are a regular inspiration for the Royal Society of Marine Artists.
Below are works from this year’s Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition that pay tribute to the Institution that has saved some 140,000 lives since it was founded in 1824.
C David Gillingwater isn’t just a talented painter, he is also a Lifeboat volunteer himself. On Reflection is part of his project to paint portraits of each of his 25 Lifeboat colleagues. He explains “On Reflection is representative of the time when a crew member returns from a 'Shout'. This crew member, James Cable, is exhausted. His lifejacket open to show completion of the rescue and a coffee cup balanced precariously, representing the lives of Lifeboat crew past and present. As a crew member myself of 21 years I know this look all too well.”
C David Gillingwater On Reflection Oil 112 x 112 cm £2,750
Peter Barker RSMA is slightly less hands-on and closer to my own TV watching experience. “I don’t spend much time out at sea” he says “I live in land-locked Rutland, and generally only paint looking out to sea, but I have immense admiration for the brave souls who risk their lives, for no monetary reward, to save others in peril. That feeling is always heightened when there is a programme on the telly about the Penlee Lifeboat disaster of December 1981, when all 8 crew members were lost on the Solomon Browne, a 47ft wooden Watson class motor lifeboat, when they went out in hurricane conditions to the aid of a mini-bulk carrier, the Union Star.”
Peter Barker RSMA Leaving St Mary's, Isles of Scilly Oil, 45 x 77 cm, £2,150
“My partner Jane and I had a lovely few days on the Scilly Isles last September, and when we left for the mainland, it was overcast with a hint of yellow in the clear bit of greenish sky near the horizon. The sea was a little choppy, and the bright orange/navy livery of the Lifeboat shone out as a lovely subject against the grey backdrop, so I took a couple of photos and composed the painting back in the studio. Without the Lifeboat, the scene would have been uninspiring, but that bit of colour was perfect to enlighten the otherwise dull and boring vista.”
With a much more personal connection to the Penlee Lifeboat Disaster is Geoffrey Huband RSMA:
“Since the age of sixteen, The Solomon Browne was an interest very close to my heart. One of my dearest friends Johnny Drew, was full-time motor mechanic of The Solomon Browne and he had served on two previous lifeboats stationed at Mousehole, The Brothers and The W & S. The Solomon Browne was his pride and joy and I spent many happy hours in the company of Johnny learning all about the boat and polishing and cleaning her in readiness for her next service. Over time I occasionally worked in the Slip Crew and on several occasions went out on a summertime service. These were known as Medico’s and involved taking injured crew members ashore to the local hospital.
Johnny Drew retired 48 years ago in 1971 and my close relationship to the lifeboat came to an end, however, I always followed its activities with great interest. In the late summer of 1981, I painted a major picture of the annual blessing of the lifeboat in Mousehole Harbour. The painting Village Anniversary was on exhibition with the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and was transferred to the London Boat Show following the loss of the lifeboat. This was a tragedy which stunned the village of Mousehole and the surrounding community and resonates to the present day.
Geoffrey Huband RSMA Village Anniversary
"I felt at the time unable to continue exhibiting what was a joyous painting of a ceremony at the heart of the village. However, two years later I was persuaded to exhibit Village Anniversary in my studio in Mousehole, I did so with some trepidation but happily, the picture was well received and created great interest in the community. The painting was sold to the American architect Stuart Dawson who was responsible for designing the Waterfront in Boston USA.
It was with similar trepidation, that I decided that I wished to pay tribute to both The Solomon Browne and the sacrifice of her crew, who were ordinary men doing extraordinary things."
Geoffrey Huband RSMA The Solomon Browne, 19 December 1981 Oil, 81 x 107 cm, £4,000
"I remember the night of the loss of The Solomon Browne as if it were only yesterday. The weather was, without doubt, the worst I have ever known in the 50 years that Cornwall has been my home. I had been cast in the role of Father Christmas at a children’s Christmas party at a hotel on the promenade at Penzance. I distinctly remember tightly holding on to young children who were in danger of being blown away as we attempted to cross the carpark in hurricane-force winds. On arrival home late that evening, the news broke that a lifeboat was believed lost off Land’s End. We all knew this could only be The Solomon Browne, the next morning confirmed our worst fears.
The painting of the last service of The Solomon Browne had been in my mind for 48 years and I felt that the only way to do justice to the incredible sacrifice was to paint the picture as I imagined it of the last moments of the attempted rescue. It was reported that the lifeboat was deliberately steered on to the deck of the stricken vessel Union Star in order to take off the few remaining crew that were left on board. This was the last act of a brave crew and heroic lifeboat.
Depicting the scene was a painful experience, as is speaking of it or writing about it, even after so many years. I hope my depiction conveys both the elements of horror and sacrifice adequately.”
Lorraine Abraham RSMA visited the Gloucester Tall Ships Festival looking for inspiration for a piece for the Annual Exhibition and, she says “I was not disappointed!
Lorraine Abraham RSMA Tall Ships Festival, Gloucester Scratchboard & ink, 44 x 54 cm, £850
“I chose this particular scene because the folds of the sails made a great visual impact on me. I thought them Classical in their neat formality. I spent several hours making a detailed drawing of them. All my work is based on my drawings and the abstract basis of how I use the picture surface. In this case, as I had decided on the sails as the main feature and focal point, it left me with two areas above and below. I used the upper part for the Historical Tall ships.
The lower part, I devoted to Severn Rescue. They had an important job to do and were very visible and active. There were not any disasters as far as I was aware - a big congratulation to Severn Rescue on patrol. Each patrol boat was a study in itself - a delight to draw and they exuded a confidence of being in control of whatever they could be called on to deal with.”
Greg Ramsden’s studio is next to the Lifeboat station and museum in Salcombe. “They are literally my next-door neighbours. The Lifeboat is always a part of my day, from the sounds of the lifeboat crews pagers beeping as they run down the street to answer another call out, to the wonderful sounds of Baltic Wharf’s powerful engines humming as it sets off.
“The Lifeboat sits in the glistening light in the harbour always attracting attention. It is a subject I’ve painted a few times as it is always a spectacle when the boat pulls out from its mooring and people come running to watch it embark on another mission. I have friends on the crew and also know the management well, even the CEO of the RNLI lives in Salcombe.
Greg Ramsden The Baltic Exchange Lifeboat Salcombe Oil, 35 x 40 cm, £550
“One of my Tutors (The Turner Prize nominee George Shaw) once told me a great thing ‘that you should paint what’s is in your backyard’. My 'backyard' is full of marine subjects from boatyards to people landing small crafts on the beaches. It’s the light around the subjects that I like to capture, the silhouette in strong contre-jour and each morning as I walk to my studio there is the Baltic Exchange waiting to be painted. The poetic nature of the boat and the brave work of the RNLI makes for a wonderful subject and I feel very lucky to be in such close quarters to it.”