Catalogue entry

Philip James de Loutherbourg 1740–1812

T01451 The Battle of Camperdown 1799

Inscribed ‘P.J.De-Loutherbourg. R.A.1799’ b.r.
Canvas, 60 x 84¼ (152.4 x 214).
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1971.
Coll: ...; the Junior Carlton Club, acquired in the latter part of the 19th century, sold Christie’s, 24 May 1968 (84, repr.), bt. Leggatt for a private collector who lent it to the National Maritime Museum 1968–71 and sold it through Leggatt’s to the Tate Gallery 1971.
Engr: in line by James Fittler, published April 1801.

The British fleet under Admiral Duncan engaged the Dutch under de Winter off the coast of Holland near Camperdown on 11 October 1797. After a long and closely fought battle de Winter surrendered. In de Loutherbourg’s picture Duncan’s flagship Venerable is to the left of centre and has just fired her last broadside at the Vryheid, aboard whom de Winter is seen striking his flag. The key to Fittler’s engraving of the painting identifies the British ships Powerfully Ardent, Bedford, Director, the Active cutter and the Dutch Hercule, but ship portraiture was nor de Loutherbourg’s primary concern. As the prospectus for the engraving explains, the artist’s ‘animating display’ was intended to express ‘the extent of the horror and devastation attendant upon a conflict disputed with such obstinate bravery, and so honourable in its termination to the British navy.’ Moreover,

‘Mr. Loutherbourg has availed himself of the privilege allowed to painters, as well as epic and dramatic poets, of assembling in one point of view such incidents as were not very distant from each other in regard to time. These incidents have been associated as fully as the limits of the distinct pictures [i.e. this work and its companion, T01452] would admit; and although many principal events, in which particular ships distinguished themselves, may not have been brought forward, yet the artist is satisfied that the officers of the navy will be indulgent for whatever it was not practicable to introduce; especially as it has been Mr. Loutherbourg’s plan to compose his pictures with an adherence to the principles of the art not usually consulted in marine painting.’

To a greater extent than a more traditional artist like Thomas Whitcombe, whose ‘Battle of Camperdown’ is also in the collection (N01659), de Loutherbourg is concerned with making a dramatic work of art which will involve the spectator in the melee of the battle and arouse his sympathy for the participants. His more dynamic conception of landscape and seascape was a valuable example for the young Turner.

A smaller version of T01451, measuring 29½ x 38 in. and dated 1801, is in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.