Port of Iquique, Chile signed 'T. Somerscales' and dated 1903 (lower right) oil on canvas 30.5 x 45.7cm (12 x 18in).
After his lengthy sojourn in Chile from 1869-92, Thomas Somerscales sold his home in Valparaiso and returned to Hull at the age of 54. His fascination for the waters off the Pacific coast of South America continued unabated however and in 1903, the same year that he painted the work offered in this catalogue, he returned to Chile for the first of five subsequent visits, the last of which was only concluded as late as 1915. Whether he visited Iquique during his 1903-04 visit is unknown, but it is sufficient to note that this appears to be his only depiction of this port which, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, did much to ensure the prosperity of Chile as a whole.
The view of Iquique from the sea, like most of the other Chilean ports in this era, was perfectly encapsulated by the celebrated maritime author Basil Lubbock who, in the opening chapter of his 1932 classic The Nitrate Clippers stated that:
The West Coast [of South America], with its steep, treeless hills simmering in the heat, ankle deep in dust, and swarming with flies; with its smelly dobe and mortar shacks in narrow twisting streets; and its heaving windless anchorages, possesses a glamour which is all its own.
Whilst it is clearly the windless anchorage offshore that dominates this particular work, Somerscales masterly rendition of the pinkish sunlight on the steep, treeless hills along the shoreline is also brilliantly evocative of Lubbocks descriptive remarks, almost as if the artist had painted his picture on the basis of the books content whereas, in fact, the former pre-dated the latter by almost thirty years.
Despite the undoubted beauty of the scene as Somerscales has executed it however, the town of Iquique had a rather more prosaic claim to fame, namely as the principal port of export for guano, the worlds main agricultural fertiliser until the enforced development of manmade substitutes in blockaded Germany during the Great War. Until then, the so-called Nitrate Trade had been one of the worlds most prosperous enterprises and several shipping lines devoted their entire fleets to the carriage of this precious cargo, mainly to Western Europe. Sadly, none of the ships in this work is identifiable but the vessel in the foreground could well be based on one belonging to the German P Line which held sway over much of the nitrate trade at this date.
The rarity of this view of Iquique is emphasised by the numerous similar panoramas of Valparaiso in excess of seven recorded by Alex A. Hurst in his catalogue raisonné Thomas Somerscales, Marine Artist, His Life and Work, Teredo Books, Brighton, Sussex, 1988. Thus, the absence of any view whatsoever, even in the form of a sketch, depicting Iquique in this most comprehensive of books would suggest that the work offered here may well be unique and, whether this is the case or not, it nevertheless represents an important new addition to Somerscales existing oeuvre.