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This harbour scene is based on Le Havre in northern France. Its apparent calm conceals a sense of anxiety. It was painted in May 1940 at Maresfield, Sussex, where Wadsworth could hear the bombardment of French ports by the advancing German forces encircling the British at Dunkirk.

Wadsworth painted many collections of marine objects like this. He was interested in animism – attributing life to inanimate objects. Here the dynamic forms of the ships’ propellers suggest a dance, while hinting at the function they will perform beyond the harbour mouth on the horizon.

April 2005