In this tour de force, Derek Gardner has depicted an earlier stage of the action on 1st June 1794 than did Thomas Whitcombe in the preceding lot. Although Howe's flagship Queen Charlotte is clearly shown engaging her French counterpart Montagne with her port batteries and a French '74' at longer range with her starboard guns, it is clear from the general lack of damage to all ships that battle has only recently been joined. Even so, a lucky shot has already robbed Queen Charlotte of her fore topmast and Gardner has included the charming little vignette of a sailor astride the same mast's fighting top clearing away wreckage with an axe. Equally commendable is Gardner's meticulous rendition of the ships' battle flags, including the highly distinctive French naval ensign and jack, both of which were only introduced in 1790 and had been replaced with the more familiar 'tricolour' by the end of 1794. The other notable flag in this work is the so-called 'Union Jack' at Queen Charlotte's main truck, the original of which - coincidentally - was recently sold in our South Kensington rooms on 8th November 2006 (lot 24).
Derek Gardner was one of the finest British maritime painters of the twentieth century, and his work continues to fascinate collectors on both sides of the Atlantic. He served as an officer in the Royal Navy during World War II and, in 1942, was mentioned in dispatches for his distinguished service, when the destroyer H.M.S. Broke was sunk in the Mediterranean. He left the service as a commander in 1947. As an entirely self-taught painter his was a most prodigious talent, his success lying in his ability to portray ships with great accuracy, whilst also conveying the colour, luminosity and drama of the wind and sea. He will go down in history as one of Britain's most accomplished maritime artists.