William Clark of Greenock (British, 1803-1883) The 1855 Royal Northern Club Regatta off Greenock 38
Lot 82
William Clark of Greenock
(British, 1803-1883)
The 1835 Royal Northern Club Regatta off Greenock 38 x 55.8cm. (15 x 22in.)
Sold for £ 20,400 (US$ 27,521) inc. premium

The Marine Sale

28 Feb 2006, 14:00 GMT

London, New Bond Street

Lot Details
William Clark of Greenock (British, 1803-1883)
William Clark of Greenock (British, 1803-1883) The 1855 Royal Northern Club Regatta off Greenock 38
The 1835 Royal Northern Club Regatta off Greenock
signed 'W.Clark' and dated 1835 (lower left)
oil on canvas
38 x 55.8cm. (15 x 22in.)


  • Provenance :- James Smith of Jordanhill and thence by family descent.

    James Smith Esq. owner the the cutter 'Amethyst', 20 tons, which is shown in the above picture in the centre of the composition sailing from left to right, flying the flag of red with a white cross was Commodore of the R.N.Y.C. in the mid-19th.Century and bought this picture directly from Clark.

    Literature :- 'Marine Art and The Clyde', A.S.Davidson, Jones-Sands Publishing, Upton, 2001.

    To be sold with a key to the yachts, owners and distinguishing flags.

    The Royal Northern Yacht Club, founded in 1824, is the oldest and most distinguished of Scotland's many yacht clubs and its history mirrors the story of yachting in the Firth of Clyde. In 1827, in keeping with the enlightened spirit of the age, it was even offering prizes for a steamship race from Rothesay to Great Cumbrae and back, and by 1835 its activities had so grown in stature that its annual regatta was being spread over four days, each day at a different venue on the estuary. In this work Clark chose as his location the 'Tail of the Bank', a beautifully scenic stretch of water between Greenock and the Rosneath peninsular, the southern shore of which occupies the left half of the horizon with the purple hills of Argyllshire in the distance.
    William Clark had set himself up as a marine painter in 1830 and when he was commissioned to paint a regatta picture of the Royal Northern's yachts off Greenock in 1835 (possibly this picture), it was stated after his death in 1883 that 'This picture was the first to bring Mr. Clark prominently to the front on his chosen line of art, and he was unanimously elected as marine artist to the club.'
    The only other regatta picture by Clark to have appeared at auction was sold in these rooms, 13th. August, 1998, lot 287, £19,000.

    In the above picture, Greenock lies behind the observer who is looking northwards towards the Rosneath peninsula, the intervening water crowded with yachts displaying their owner’s distinctive racing flags. Fine weather and a steady breeze from the northwest promise ideal conditions. Preparations are well in hand, the starting line extending from the red-flagged buoy in the left foreground to a similar one in the centre of the painting. At this stage, only the odd rowing gig and several rowing boats with spectators occupy this key area.

    Evidently the formal racing events have not yet commenced. It seems that Clark is taking advantage of the brief interlude to capture the social atmosphere of the memorable occasion and to include as many of the participating vessels as possible. A lot of these may be identified from a contemporary list of yachts and their distinguishing flags, which suggests that the painting was intended to be reproduced as a lithograph with a general appeal to quite a reasonable section of the club membership.

    Slightly to the right of centre, the commodore’s yacht occupies pride of place and is distinguished by flying a blue ensign with the R.N.Y.C. Commodore’s burgee. The burgee, which consisted of a blue ‘swallow tail’ flag bearing a crown above an anchor, was introduced in about 1834. In navy style, the cutter flies a Union Flag on a jackstaff at the bowsprit tip. Somewhat unusually, this cutter mounts ten guns and has a small raised afterdeck. Lying to her anchor and stemming the ebbing tide, her crowded decks provide a fine vantage point for the local high society, the ladies appearing in their best finery complete with brightly coloured parasols. Sharing the vantage point, several privileged boats are conveniently tied up astern.

    In the middle distance to the left of the commodore's yacht is the cutter 'Amethyst' displaying a flag bearing a white cross on a red ground, owned by James Smith, a former commodore and the original owner of the painting. On the right of the commodore’s yacht and sailing into the picture, is 'Hawk' flying a red flag with a white ball. Close by and sailing in the opposite direction is 'Sylph' distinguished by a white flag with a red ball.

    Near the left margin of the painting is the Bermudian 'Tipsey', having a red and white chequered flag. Her foresail overlaps the cutter 'Gleam' owned by Sir Robert Gore-Booth and identified by the vertical red and white flag. Just to the right, is the three masted schooner 'Rattlesnake' owned by James H Robertson. Distinguished by the blue ensign at the after peak, she displays a red-white-red horizontal flag at the fore masthead.

    Very shortly, the commodore's yacht will signal the start of proceedings with a warning gun. No quarter given or expected, the serious business of racing will then take over.

    We would like to thank Dr. Sam Davidson for his help in cataloguing this lot.
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