Battle of Trafalgar masterwork by artist who failed 'A' level art at Bonhams

The Marine Sale
26 Sep 2012
London, Knightsbridge

A magnificent painting of a crucial encounter in the Battle of Trafalgar by the UK's leading marine artist, Steven Dews, who failed his 'A' level art, is the star lot in Bonhams Marine Sale in London on 26 September. It is estimated at £100,000-150,000.

Born in Beverley, North Humberside in 1949, Steven Dews has an international reputation for his work. He has exhibited widely both in the UK and abroad and fulfilled commissions for many leading companies and organisations including the Maritime Services Board of Australia which commissioned him to paint, The First Fleet's arrival in Botany Bay as part of the country's Bicentennial Celebrations in 1988.

Throughout the long history of war at sea, the Battle of Trafalgar was certainly the most complete victory of the age of sail if not the most decisive naval engagement ever fought.

Battle of Trafalgar: HMS Victory breaking the enemy's lines depicts the moment when Lord Nelson's flagship fires her first broadside into the stern of the French Admiral's flagship, Bucentaure, causing huge damage and heavy loss of life. On Victory's starboard side, the artist has shown the enemy line stretching beyond Redoubtable's stern towards Royal Sovereign's duel with Santa Ana, whilst in the extreme right foreground, Temeraire prepares to open fire as she follows Victory into the centre of the action.

After a lengthy and frustrating chase across the Atlantic Ocean and back, Lord Nelson finally confronted the Franco-Spanish fleet off Cape Trafalgar on the morning of 21st October 1805. Admiral Villeneuve, the French supreme commander, had managed to combine the Spanish fleet with his own to give him a formidable thirty-three ships-of-war against Nelson's total of twenty-seven. To compensate for this numerical imbalance, Nelson had conceived his famously unconventional battle plan to break the enemy line in two places and as soon as the opposing fleets sighted each other on the fateful morning, the British ships formed up into their two pre-arranged columns.

Nelson himself led the Weather Division in H.M.S. Victory whilst his second-in-command, Vice-Admiral Collingwood, spearheaded the Leeward Division in the 100-gun Royal Sovereign. As the fleets closed for action, Royal Sovereign drew ahead and broke the line just after noon, almost half-an-hour before Victory could do the same when she was able to force herself between Villeneuve's flagship Bucentaure and Captain Lucas in the Redoubtable. Close behind Victory was Temeraire and, within minutes, the four ships became embroiled in a tremendous struggle during which the 74-gun Redoubtable fought with great heroism against the two much larger British first rates. Victory pounded Redoubtable relentlessly, inflicting appalling casualties amongst the men on her decks, whereas above the carnage, the French sharpshooters stationed in the fighting tops of the masts quietly waited in turn for their opportunities to pick off men on Victory's decks, one of whom would soon be Nelson himself.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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