Derek George Montague Gardner (British, 1914-2007)
The capture of H.M.S. Macedonian by the American frigate United States off Madeira, 25th. October 1812 signed 'Derek G.M. Gardner' (lower right) oil on canvas 76.2 x 127cm (30 x 50in).
PROVENANCE : With Polak Gallery, 1969. Acquired from the above by the present owner (£700).
Derek Gardner was a member of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve from 1934-1946, and served with distinction most notably in the destroyer Broke, where he was appointed anti-submarine officer. For the Anglo-American Torch landings at Algiers, in 1942, Broke was ordered to make a frontal attack on the harbour, seize the port installations and shipping and land the American troops it was carrying. Under heavy fire, Broke charged the harbour boom at 25 knots and crashed through to disembark her troops. Once the troops were ashore, she withdrew but sustained many hits and eventually sank on her way to the safe port of Gibraltar. Her survivors were picked up by the destroyer Zetland. Gardner was mentioned in dispatches for distinguished service in this action, but lost the hearing in one ear due to the concussion waves from the intense gunfire. In 1943, he joined the destroyer Highlander for the pivotal Battle of the Atlantic and retired from the Navy in 1946 with the rank of Commander.
Gardner joined the Colonial Service at the end of 1946 and was posted to Kenya as a civil engineer. Here he started to paint more seriously and began showing his work at the Kenya Arts Society in Nairobi and had two pictures exhibited at the Royal Society of Marine Artists in London. Unfortunately in 1962, he lost the hearing in his one good ear due to a bout of tick typhus but in the following year he retired to England with his wife Mary and turned to marine painting full time. He enjoyed considerable success at his many exhibitions in London. He was a self-taught artist who meticulously planned and researched all his pictures, resulting in works exhibiting amazing attention to detail. 'I'm never in a hurry', he said, aged 90. 'Fools, after all, rush in'. He was elected a member of the Royal Society of Marine artists in 1966. Examples of his work are held in the permanent collections of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich and the Bermuda Maritime Museum and in many private collections in the U.K. and U.S.A. He was painting right up to his death in 2007, aged 93.
In a letter to the vendor, dated 17th. June, 1969, Derek Gardner wrote : 'It was a most interesting picture to work on and I had a lot of enjoyment reading through accounts of the action and obtaining accurate details of the ships so that the final effort would be as authentic as I could make it.'
The Anglo-American War of 1812 witnessed several justly famous frigate actions, the second of which was fought out in mid-Atlantic, west of Madeira, on 25th October. The American 44-gun frigate United States, under the command of Commodore Stephen Decatur, was under orders to attack and destroy British merchant ships when she encountered H.M.S. Macedonian, a 38-gun frigate of the Royal Navy and one of the newest in the fleet. Macedonian, commanded by Captain John Carden, had sighted the strange ship just after daybreak and, by 7.30am., had identified her as a large American frigate of superior fire-power. Despite this, Carden prepared to engage her and the two frigates exchanged their opening broadsides at about 9.00am.; Macedonian then wore round and closed the United Stateson her larboard quarter thereby provoking a furious bombardment from the Americans longer 24-pounder guns and powerful 42-pounder carronades. Macedonian's mizzen-topmast was soon shot away and when its rigging fouled her maintop, she lost much of her manoeuvrability. For the next hour-and-a-half, the United Statespoured a relentless fire into the British frigate, ripping her rigging to shreds, shattering her hull and bringing down her mizzen-mast along with her fore - and main-topmasts. All but two of her upper deck guns were dismounted and she had a large number of casualties yet still Carden fought on. After a failed attempt to board Macedonian, the then made ready to rake her adversarys stern and at that point, Carden realised that further resistance was useless and struck his colours. Decatur accepted his surrender gracefully, the second British capitulation in two months, and sent Macedonian into Newport, Rhode Island, under the command of Lieutenant W.H. Allen. She was the first American prize of the War the captured H.M.S. Guerrière taken in August being too damaged to save and another bitter humiliation to British prestige on the high seas.
The painting depicts the action at about 10.45 a.m. shortly before the Macedonian's main topmast went over the side.
This work is a very similar composition to the famous oil of this engagement by Thomas Birch of Philadelphia, subsequently engraved by Benjamin Tanner and published on 25th October 1813. Birchs original oil hung in the Oval Office of the White House during John F. Kennedys presidency and was sold in New York in May 2008. The various engravings taken from it are illustrated in American Naval Broadsides, A Collection of Early Naval Prints (1745-1815) by Edgar Newbold Smith, pub. Philadelphia, 1974, pp. 110-19, plates 53-59.