Wednesday 23 September 2015

Rowing in Art

I spent a jolly time on Tuesday rowing Tim the Telly Art Historian round Portsmouth Harbour as he explained to the camera that this painting by Turner is not, as assumed for over a hundred years, a view of Venice but in fact of Gosport.
It was recently discovered that it represents the arrival of Louis Philippe, King of France, at the Royal Clarence Yard in 1844.
Apparently the light was regarded as too brilliant for dreary old Pompey, and the truth only came out by examining the artist's diaries and sketches. There is, admittedly, very little detail to go on in the picture.
By coincidence I had visited the National Gallery the week before and had a look at the huge Turner depicting Dido building Carthage, and the accompanying work by Claude entitled Seaport with the embarkation of the Queen of Sheba.
Both pictures feature rowing boats, curiously.  I took a couple of close-up shots with my new Moto G 3rd Gen phone.
Claude's boat is very detailed, being rowed across the water briskly by its crew of seven. Yes, seven. There are four rowers on one side and three on the other. There is no cox and it looks very likely they will hit the boat on the right. And their oars are ridiculously short.
Turner shows a royal barge with a cabin and a gilded lion on the bow. It seems to be four oared, the oars being the correct length and shown in the easy position. The boat has poise and elegance. Turner has clearly seen rowing boats, while Claude evidently didn't have a clue.


Alden Smith said...

You are right about the imbalance of Claudes rowers. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt by thinking that maybe the rower in the bow had another oar in his right hand but it was obscured by the rower in front of him. But as you point out anyone who paints the oars so short obviously doesn't know a lot about boats. Noticing such details is the cross we bear for having an intimate knowledge of boats.

It has always annoyed me how in movies sailing boats are often shown roaring through the water when there is hardly any wind and there is an obvious wake at the stern caused by a propeller!

A replica of Blighs Bounty was built here in Whangarei NZ in the 1970s complete with huge ballast tanks that were used to heel the Bounty for dramatic effect - of course to the eyes of the knowledgeable sailor a huge square rigger heeled 45 degrees in 10 knots of wind with the churning wake of her twin engines simply looks absurd.

In June of this year I was at the Tate gallery in London in a room full of Turners and was sad to see (and read about the fact) that Turner wasn't much interested in the quality of his paint with the effect that some of his painting have faded to a high degree - which is very sad as his paintings are a wonder to behold.

Chris Waite said...

May I stickle for a moment?

The Royal Naval Montague Whaler, whose builder's loft you recently featured, was normally crewed by a cox and five oarsmen each with one oar - three one side and two the other. I have been told that they were deliberately built with a slight curve in the keel to compensate for this, a diminutive form of the same characteristic in a Gondola. I cannot find a picture, but one of your followers does tell of a Montague Whaler for sale, including FIVE sweeps -

If I'd known when I was regularly in the vicinity of these boats
I'd have sighted along a keel

To find out for myself

Chris Waite

Alden Smith said...

I did a bit of research on the internet on Montague Whalers and it does seem that there is nothing out of the ordinary to have 5 oarsman as crew - but always it seems with a cox with a rudder or a sweep.
I think that Chris' comments regarding the inaccuracy of the Claudes painted rowers still stands as there is no cox and as he rightly points out the oars are ridiculously short.
The point about boats with compensatory curves in the keel is an interesting one and a cunning plan that I have never heard of before.

PicoMicroYacht said...

Of course Turner was inspired by Claude. However, the art critic Ruskin, who championed Turner, was quite scathing about Claude's ability to paint ships - in 'The Harbours of England' he wrote 'The ships of Claude, having hulls of a shape something between a cocoa-nut and a high heeled shoe, balanced on their keels on the top of the water, with some scaffolding and cross-sticks above, and a flag at the top of every stick, form perhaps the purest exhibition of human inanity and fatuity which the arts have yet produced.' Steady on Ruskin, it wasn't that bad....