The battle of Trafalgar: late in the action signed 'T. Buttersworth' and dated 1806 (lower left) watercolour 31.3 x 43.7cm (12 5/16 x 17 3/16in).
Despite the plethora of artists who have depicted the battle of Trafalgar in both oil and watercolour, few of them did so from the perspective of a serving sailor. Even though he had, in fact, been invalided out of the Royal Navy in 1800, Thomas Buttersworth was one such and this work, dated 1806 and thus executed within months or, maybe, even weeks of the great victory, is a splendid contemporary record of the event. Since Buttersworth's only known oil painting of Trafalgar was not exhibited until 1825, it seems probable that the work offered in this catalogue was not intended as a preparatory sketch for something larger.
As far as the subject matter is concerned, Buttersworth has chosen to depict the battleground off Cape Trafalgar in the mid-afternoon, by which time the action is nearing its climax. Although Victory is shown still embroiled in a close action with two enemy '74s', the vessel on her starboard side is clearly near to submission and other damaged enemy ships can be seen elsewhere. Buttersworth has also heightened the overall sense of British achievement with his portrayal of the partially dismasted Spanish four-decker in the left foreground. The only four-decker ever built and the largest sailing warship in the world, the mighty Santisima Trinidad mounted 140 guns and was the principal Spanish flagship. Already a veteran of the battle of Cape St. Vincent, she was thought impregnable but took a tremendous battering at Trafalgar and eventually surrendered to H.M.S. Prince. Even in her damaged state however, she was still a hugely valuable prize and many an English purse felt her loss keenly when she foundered in heavy weather on 24th October whilst making for Gibraltar under her prize crew.
For other depictions of Trafalgar, see lots 129, 132 and 154 in this catalogue.