Early on 6th March 1808, the 36-gun British frigate San Fiorenzo, commanded by Captain George Hardinge, was returning to Bombay from Pointe de Galle, Ceylon, when she sighted the 40-gun French frigate Piémontaise making to intercept three unprotected East Indiamen. As soon as she saw the San Fiorenzo, Piémontaise changed course and an epic chase ensued. The first shots were exchanged just before midnight whereupon Piémontaise escaped into the darkness only to be re-engaged by San Fiorenzo at about 6.30am. the next morning (7th March). This action lasted almost two hours before Piémontaise once again made sail before the wind and pulled away. The running fight then resumed at 4.00pm. the following afternoon (8th March) when, after a furious close action also lasting almost two hours - during which Captain Hardinge was killed by an enemy grape-shot - Péimontaise was reduced to a shattered and dismasted hulk. Faced with heavy casualties in addition to an unmanageable ship, Captain Epron was faced with no alternative but surrender and Piémontaise hauled down her colours at 5.49pm. It had been a memorable fight and Lieutenant Dawson, who had taken command of San Fiorenzo when his captain was killed, received a well-earned immediate promotion. Despite the damage suffered, Piémontaise was towed into Columbo where she was refitted and absorbed into the Royal Navy under her own name, remaining in service until broken up in 1813.
It seems likely that this painting was commissioned by an officer on the San Fiorenzo after seeing either Nicholas Pocock's original or one of the engravings taken from it.
A companion work by Mornewick, showing an earlier phase of this prolonged action, was sold in our New York salerooms on 13th February 1997, lot 123.