William Anderson (British, 1757-1837) H.M.S. Culloden, under Captain Troubridge's command, stranded on a shoal off Aboukir Island as the battle of the Nile rages in the distance ahead of her
Lot 103W
William Anderson
(British, 1757-1837)
H.M.S. Culloden, under Captain Troubridge's command, stranded on a shoal off Aboukir Island as the battle of the Nile rages in the distance ahead of her
Sold for £60,000 (US$ 94,094) inc. premium

Lot Details
William Anderson (British, 1757-1837) H.M.S. Culloden, under Captain Troubridge's command, stranded on a shoal off Aboukir Island as the battle of the Nile rages in the distance ahead of her
William Anderson (British, 1757-1837)
H.M.S. Culloden, under Captain Troubridge's command, stranded on a shoal off Aboukir Island as the battle of the Nile rages in the distance ahead of her
signed and dated 'W. Anderson/1801' (on buoy, lower left)
oil on canvas
80 x 133.3cm (31 1/2 x 52 1/2in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Sale, Sotheby's London, 31st May, 1989, Marine Pictures, Nautical Works of Art, Classic Yachts and Boats, lot 132.
    with Leger Galleries, London
    Sale, Sotheby's New York, 7th June 1991, Sporting and Marine Paintings and Sculpture, lot 148.
    with Lane Fine Art
    J. W. Robertson Esq. (bought from the above, 1991)

    The victory at the Nile was the highly positive outcome of the unsuccessful attempt to stop Napoleon's invasion of Egypt which Nelson spent most of the summer of 1798 trying to prevent. Cruising the eastern Mediterranean in an attempt to locate Admiral Bruey's Toulon fleet, Nelson eventually arrived off Alexandria and, in the early afternoon of 1st August, sighted the French fleet at anchor in Aboukir Bay, about 15 miles to the west. Bruey had chosen a strong position in a well-protected bay; additionally, the French ships had larger and heavier guns even though the number of vessels was roughly equal on both sides. Conversely, Nelson had the advantage of surprise and when he realised that the enemy's ships were not cleared for action on their landward sides, he gave orders to attack. It was already six o'clock in the evening by the time Nelson's fleet had crossed the bay and, with only two hours of daylight remaining, the enemy was as amazed as Nelson's own captains by his daring. Outgunned and unprepared for an action they believed would not come until the next morning, the French were decisively defeated and their fleet in the Mediterranean virtually annihilated. It was the greatest naval victory to date in an age of notable successes at sea and it brought Nelson the adulation of his country and the undying admiration of his fellow officers.

    Many artists, both at the time and subsequently, have augmented their incomes with depictions of this seminal action, the most enduring image of which tends to be the dramatic night-time explosion of the huge French 120-gun flagship L'Orient at about 10.00pm. Engaged by several British ships, she had been on fire for some time before the blaze reached her powder magazines and when she blew up "with a crashing sound that deafened all around her", the brilliant flash of flame was visible in Alexandria and the noise heard even further away. By comparison, the work offered in this lot is a far more unusual composition recording, as it does, one of the least known incidents of that momentous day, the stranding of the Culloden and the almost super-human efforts to save her.

    The first shots of the battle rang out at about 6.30pm. and within two hours, five French ships-of-the-line had been overwhelmed and forced to surrender. As darkness fell, the fight shifted to the centre where Bruey's largest ships, most notably his own flagship L'Orient, began inflicting serious damage on several of Nelson's '74s'. For a while it seemed as if Nelson's gamble might fail and only the opportune arrival of his last four ships saved the day, one of which had been the Culloden. As she sailed towards the fray however, she grounded on an uncharted shoal off Aboukir Island and stuck fast. Alerted to what had occurred by Culloden's cannon firing in distress, Captain Thompson of the Leander, the vessel immediately ahead of Culloden, put his ship about and came to assist. She is clearly shown as the only vessel sailing towards the viewer whilst, in the foreground, officers and men in Culloden's launches are doing what they can to free the stricken ship by any and every means. Despite the best efforts of every man however, it was all to no avail as far as Culloden's participation in the battle was concerned. Troubridge and his crew struggled all night to save her from sinking as one crisis followed another and, when dawn broke on 2nd August to find her still afloat, a weary cheer echoed around the entire fleet. It nevertheless took many more days of massive effort to ensure her survival until finally, on 19th August, she was seaworthy enough to make for Naples whose shipwrights and labourers spent fully "849 man-days of work" restoring her to prime condition.

    The epic saving of the Culloden, which Nelson himself was determined not to lose under any circumstances, is one of the most heroic tales of survival in the long history of the Royal Navy. Notwithstanding the fact that she was denied an active role in the Battle of the Nile, it is not in the least surprising that her deliverance should be recorded by any artist who came upon her inspiring story.

    William Anderson, in fact, produced a quartet of Nile views for engraving, the first of which has a striking similarity to the work offered here. It seems very probable therefore that, after seeing the published print, this oil could well have been commissioned by Captain Troubridge as a poignant memento of his own ultimately successful battle to save his ship from loss and dishonour.


    Works by Anderson are in the collections of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (9), Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston-upon-Hull, (1), Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut (3) and the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, (1)
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