Francis Holman (British, 1729-1790) The action between the fleets of Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel (later Lord) Hood and the French Comte de Grasse in Frigate Bay, off Basseterre, St Kitts, 26th January 1782
Lot 115
Francis Holman
(British, 1729-1790)
The action between the fleets of Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel (later Lord) Hood and the French Comte de Grasse in Frigate Bay, off Basseterre, St Kitts, 26th January 1782
Sold for £62,500 (US$ 102,035) inc. premium

Lot Details
Francis Holman (British, 1729-1790)
The action between the fleets of Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel (later Lord) Hood and the French Comte de Grasse in Frigate Bay, off Basseterre, St Kitts, 26th January 1782
signed 'F. Holman' and dated 1783 (lower left)
oil on canvas
101 x 186cm (39 3/4 x 73 1/4in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    By family descent
    Sale, Sotheby's London, Important British Pictures, London, 1 July 2004, lot 6, as 'Action between Lord Hood and the Count de Grasse off Basse Terre, 26th January 1782'
    Private collection, UK
    Sale, Bonhams London, 28 September 2010, lot 225
    J. W. Robertson Esq. (bought from the above sale)

    Exhibited
    London, Royal Academy, 1784, no.337

    When news of General Cornwallis's catastrophic defeat at Yorktown in October 1781 reached London, Lord North's government realised that the fight to hold on to England's North American colonies was effectively lost. The conflict with France and Spain however, both of which had allied themselves to the infant United States in the hope of territorial gain at England's expense, was far from over. It was when the French fleet returned to the Caribbean from the Virginia coast that November, yhat it became clear that de Grasse was planning a major new initiative against the valuable British West Indian 'sugar' islands.

    With Admiral [Lord] Rodney – in command of the Jamaica station – absent in England, temporary command of the fleet there fell upon Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood who received news that the French were at sea just after the turn of the New Year [1782]. De Grasse's target was the island of St. Kitts and, on 11th January, his substantial fleet of twenty-four ships-of-the-line, two '50s' and a flotilla of transports, sailed into Frigate Bay, off the St. Kitts capital of Basseterre, and landed some 8,000 troops. As soon as he learned of the landings on the 16th, Hood put to sea with twenty-two sail and, on the 21st, was in Antigua for repairs, barely fifty miles from his objective. Originally intending to surprise the enemy at their anchorage at daybreak on the 24th, Hood's approach was spotted by French lookouts and de Grasse immediately weighed anchor and stood out to sea. Hood then made a surprisingly bold move and, instead of attacking de Grasse, determined to seize the Basseterre anchorage himself. On the afternoon of 25th January, the French endeavoured to force an action and de Grasse's flagship, the huge 110-gun Ville de Paris, led a furious attack on the British rear. Undeterred, Hood calmly took his ships into the roadstead where they took up their stations and dropped anchor in formation. Having completed this "masterly manoeuvre" under heavy enemy fire, Hood then beat off a succession of three spirited French attacks later that day and one the next until, finally, de Grasse gave up and retired. Even though St. Kitts fell into French hands three weeks later, the naval operations had been dominated by Hood's brilliant defence of the island during that last week in January.

    Although it has not been possible to pinpoint the exact moment of the battle as depicted in this painting, Holman's own title seems to indicate that it shows the final French attack on the second day of the fighting, namely 26th January [1782]. Hood's flagship, the 98-gun second rate Barfleur, is clearly identifiable in the very centre of the picture wearing the red command flags appropriate to Hood's rank at her mastheads.

    There are two classic paintings of this action in the National Collection at Greenwich by Thomas Maynard and Nicholas Pocock, the work offered in this catalogue being more similar to the latter in its overall composition.


    Works by Holman are in the collections of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (11), Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston-upon-Hull (1), Peabody Museum of Salem, Massachusetts (4) and the Library of New South Wales, Sydney (1)
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