Dominic Serres (Auch 1722-1793 London) H.M.S. Brunswick, commanded by Captain John Harvey, passing Mount Edgcumbe as she heads into Plymouth Sound and thence open water
Lot 113W
Dominic Serres
(British 1722-1793)
H.M.S. Brunswick, commanded by Captain John Harvey, passing Mount Edgcumbe as she heads into Plymouth Sound and thence open water
Sold for £ 25,000 (US$ 33,014) inc. premium

Lot Details
Dominic Serres (British 1722-1793)
H.M.S. Brunswick, commanded by Captain John Harvey, passing Mount Edgcumbe as she heads into Plymouth Sound and thence open water
indistinctly signed (on driftwood, lower left)
oil on canvas
71 x 142.2cm (28 x 56in).


  • Provenance
    The 2nd Earl Beatty
    Sale, Sotheby's London, 12th March 1986, lot 16, as 'The Brunswick leaving Plymouth'
    with Lane Fine Art
    J. W. Robertson Esq., (bought from the above, 1986)

    Alan Russett, Dominic Serres, 1719-1793 War Artist to the Navy, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2001, illustrated in colour, p.153, plate 63

    'The painting, which was in the collection of 2nd Earl Beatty, shows the 74-gun ship in a typical Serres coastal landscape composition, bathed in its own patch of sunlight and framed by towering heaps of cloud. the palette is the artist's preferred pale blend of predominant browns and greens which gives his canvases their characteristic, understated appeal.' Alan Russett, ibid.

    We are grateful to Alan Russett for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.

    H.M.S. Brunswick, named for the German dukedom of Brunswick-Lüneburg over which England's Hanoverian rulers also held sway, was the first '74' to be designed and built on the basis of the experience gained by the Royal Navy's other third rates during the American War of Independence. Ordered in January 1785, her keel was laid at Deptford in May 1786 where her construction was directed, first by Master Shipwright Henry Peake and then by Martin Ware. Launched on 30th April 1790 and completed soon afterwards in the royal dockyard at Woolwich, she was measured at 1,829 tons and was 176 feet in length with a 49 foot beam. Carrying a main armament of 28-32pdrs. and manned by a crew of 650 officers, men and marines, she was significantly larger than any previous '74' built for the fleet, and her completion marked the start of a programme of large two-deckers which continued until the end of the century.

    After brief dockyard commissions under Captain Sir Hyde Parker and Captain Sir Roger Curtis, making ready for action against the Spanish and the Russians respectively during two successive diplomatic crises, she was briefly guardship at Portsmouth during the lull before the outbreak of War with Revolutionary France. Recommissioned for sea under the command of Captain Sir John Harvey in July 1793, her first taste of action came in the battle of the 'Glorious 1st of June' (1794) where her legendary duel with the French '74' Le Vengeur du Peuple brought her enduring fame tempered only by the untimely death of Harvey himself.

    The 'Glorious 1st of June', the first fleet action of the French Revolutionary Wars:

    Admiral Lord Howe, at sea with orders to prevent a vital grain convoy from the Americas reaching France where there were already serious food shortages resulting from the Royal Navy's blockade, sighted both the convoy and the French fleet escorting it on 28th May (1794). After a running fight lasting three days, during which the French had the advantage of heavy weather, Howe seized the initiative on the morning of 1st June and attacked. His strategy was not entirely successful however, as the convoy was able to make port safely whilst the battle raged nearby; nevertheless, six French ships-of-the-line were taken as prizes and a seventh, Le Vengeur du Peuple, was sunk after a tremendous duel with H.M.S. Brunswick.

    The celebrated fight between Le Vengeur, under Captain Renaudin, and the Brunswick, Captain Harvey, began early in the day when Brunswick ran against Le Vengeur broadside on and the two ships began to pound each other mercilessly. Brunswick gave Le Vengeur a fearful battering and then grappled herself to the Frenchman, thereby gaining the final advantage with her more rapid rate of fire. Other British vessels joined in the affray later, but only Le Trente-et-Un Mai was able to give Le Vengeur some temporary support in her unequal struggle. At about 4.30pm., Renaudin realised that his ship was sinking beneath him and he ordered her colours to be struck. The victors sent their boats to take off her crew, but Le Vengeur sank before all could be saved. Renaudin's tenacity soon became the stuff of legend and few other losses in the coming years entered the consciousness of the French nation as deeply as the sinking of Le Vengeur du Peuple.

    Although the 'Glorious 1st of June' was the only fleet action of her career, Brunswick nevertheless distinguished herself in many later operations, most notably in Admiral Lord Gambia's expedition to bombard Copenhagen in 1807, and with Sir James Saumarez's fleet in the Baltic the next year. Returning to England, she was thereafter laid up at Gillingham until 1812 when she was converted into one of the Medway's notorious prison hulks. With the Napoleonic Wars over and all French prisoners repatriated, Brunswick then became a powder hulk and, later, a lazarette, and was finally broken up at Sheerness in 1826.

    Given that Brunswick was not required for sea duty until Captain John Harvey was given her in July 1793, it seems highly likely that this work was commissioned by Harvey to mark his new command. Similarly, since Serres died in November 1793, it seems equally probable that this must be one of his very last finished works.

    Works by Serres are in the collections of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, Maryland (1), National Gallery, Dublin (1), National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (45) and the Town Hall, Ipswich (7)
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