Attributed to Giuseppe Ignacio Chiesa (1720-1805) British Infantry officers on a bluff, with a view of Fort St Philip, Port Mahon, Minorca, beyond
Lot 154
Attributed to Giuseppe Ignacio Chiesa (1720-1805)
British Infantry officers on a bluff, with a view of Fort St Philip, Port Mahon, Minorca, beyond
Sold for £10,625 (US$ 14,353) inc. premium

Lot Details
Attributed to Giuseppe Ignacio Chiesa (1720-1805)
British Infantry officers on a bluff, with a view of Fort St Philip, Port Mahon, Minorca, beyond
oil on canvas
42 x 55cm (16 9/16 x 21 5/8in).


    With Rafael Valls Gallery, London
    Private collection, U.K.

    This very interesting painting last appeared on the London art market some years ago when it was attributed to the Malta-based landscape painter Alberto Pulicino (1719-circa 1765). Much more convincing is an ascription to the artist responsible for a group of six paintings that were in the collection of Major-General Sir John Ponsonby KCB CMG DSO at Haile Hall in Cumberland, and since donated by his widow to the National Army Museum. They are ascribed to Giuseppe Ignacio Maria Chiesa (1720-89). This series of six paintings portrays members of the 25th Regiment of Foot in Minorca during the period they were stationed there between 1769 and 1775. The paintings belonged, in the 18th century, to Sir John Ponsonby's forebear Lord George Lennox (1737-1805) who was Colonel of the 25th Regiment of Foot from 1762 to 1805 and who, in all likelihood, commissioned the series.

    One of the paintings, identified on the frame as 'Lady Johnstone', shows the subject riding a mule near a group of officers standing on a bluff, and the topography of the Fort beyond is almost identical to that of the present work. The treatment of the figures shows a striking similarity, and the composition of several of the Ponsonby series shows exactly the same scale of the figures in relation to the landscape (such as 'Lady Louisa Lennox with her husband's Regiment..and Fort St Philip, Port Mahon, in the background').

    Several infantry regiments were garrisoned at Port Mahon between 1769 and 1770, when the Ponsonby series – and therefore the present work – was probably painted: in addition to the 25th were the 3rd, 11th, 13th and 67th. Minorca was a key base for Britain, having been taken in 1708 during the War of Spanish Succession; together with Gibraltar it provided a crucial foothold in the Mediterranean and was to remain a British dependency until 1802 when it was ceded to Spain. The garrison at Port Mahon was necessary to defend British interests on the island, and when this work was painted Britain would still have been smarting from the humiliating events of 1754: French forces under the command of the Duc de Richelieu invaded Minorca, and by the time Admiral Byng arrived with his fleet, French troops had already overrun the island with the exception of the garrison of Fort St Philip. The French squadron overpowered the British fleet in the battle that ensued, (although no ships were lost on either side) and Byng withdrew with his fleet to Gibraltar. His failure to relieve the garrison at Fort St Philip brought about his court martial, and in due course, his execution.

    The backdrop to the present work shows the distinctive topography of Fort St Philip with its star bastion formation. The low, thick walls of such forts made an approach from the sea difficult and the slope of the battlements helped to deflect round-shot.
    The sloping grassy banks above the angled projections were designed to afford opportunities to shoot at invaders even after they had scaled the walls, reducing their chances of ever reaching the central bastion. The scenic harbour and fort of Port Mahon must have been an obvious backdrop for any artist who was commissioned to portray British officers on the island. Whilst there is no evidence to suggest that the present lot was ever part of the Ponsonby series, it is very likely that it was painted by the same hand and may have been commissioned by one of the officers depicted in the foreground. In all likelihood there would have been a ready market for such pictures among the garrisoned officers, which makes it all the more surprising that so few have ever come to light. It is a most unusual record of a key part of Britain's history in the Mediterranean.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that we believe the officers to be from the 67th Foot Regiment.
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  1. Rhyanon Demery
    Specialist - Travel and Exploration
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
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