• Maritime Art auction at Christies

    Sale 5949

    Maritime Art

    11 November 2009, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 33

    Thomas Mitchell (1735-1790)

    The battle of the Saintes, 12th April, 1782

    Price Realised  


    Thomas Mitchell (1735-1790)
    The battle of the Saintes, 12th April, 1782
    oil on canvas, in a carved and gilded frame
    26 x 48 in. (66 x 122 cm.)

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    Lord Rodney's glorious victory over the French fleet off Guadeloupe on 12th April, 1782 is known to history as the battle of the Saintes. Towards the end of the American War of Independence, by which time both France and Spain had allied themselves to the colonists' cause in the hope of gaining territory at England's expense, the French campaign in the Caribbean had already been disturbingly successful. When, in the spring of 1782, the French made ready to mount an offensive against Jamaica, Admiral Lord Rodney realised that a full-scale fleet action was his only means of stopping them. The French fleet, under the Comte de Grasse, weighed from Fort Royal, Martinique, on 8th April; Rodney intercepted it and a partial engagement took place the following day. Outwardly De Grasse had the advantage but soon lost it and the battle developed into a running fight which lasted three days. On the morning of 12th April, Rodney brought the French to action off Les Saintes, a group of small islands in the channel between Guadeloupe and Dominica. Initally adopting the traditional strategy, Rodney then bewildered the French by piercing their line of battle in two places and throwing them into utter confusion. Before long their flagship, the 104-gun Ville de Paris, was surrounded and forced to strike her colours, and even though a number of ships managed to escape, it was nevertheless a decisive defeat for the French which saved the valuable island of Jamaica from invasion.

    This splendidly detailed panorama of the battle shows the two opposing flagships, H.M.S. Formidable [Rodney] and the Ville de Paris [de Grasse], engaged in their own very private duel shortly after the general action commenced at 8.00am. on 12th April. As the two fleets approached each other, Rodney had ordered Formidable to back her topsails in order to slow his progress past the French flagship, the result of which allowed the two vessels to exchange numerous broadsides before they drifted apart in the light wind which also rapidly reduced visibility to a smoky haze. Neither flagship engaged the other again that day as each became preoccupied with adversaries elsewhere.

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