Thomas Jacques Somerscales (Hull 1842-1927)
Thomas Jacques Somerscales (Hull 1842-1927)

Valparaíso

Details
Thomas Jacques Somerscales (Hull 1842-1927)
Valparaíso
signed and dated 'T Somerscales (TS in monogram) / 97' (lower right)
oil on canvas
27 3/8 x 42 ¼in. (69.5 x 107.3cm.)
Provenance
Private collection, Germany.
Anonymous sale; Lempertz, Cologne, 18 November 2017, lot 2579.

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Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair

Lot Essay

The town is built at the very foot of a range of hills, about 1600 feet high and rather steep. … The rounded hills being only partly protected by a very scanty vegetation, are worn into numberless little gullies, which expose a singularly bright red soil. … In a north-easterly direction there are some fine glimpses of the Andes: but these mountains appear much grander when viewed from the neighbouring hills: the great distance at which they are situated can then more readily be perceived. The volcano of Aconcagua is particularly magnificent. … The Cordillera, however, viewed from this point, owe the greater part of their beauty to the atmosphere through which they are seen. When the sun was setting in the Pacific, it was admirable to watch how clearly their rugged outlines could be distinguished, yet how varied and how delicate were the shades of their colour.

Charles Darwin, Valparaíso, 23 July 1834


Thomas Somerscales, a Yorkshireman long claimed by Chile for his prolific work describing the nation’s maritime history, painted many sweeping views of Valparaíso throughout his career, from all viewpoints. Here he is looking in a north-eastly direction over the port towards Viña del Mar, with the Cordillera of the Andes captured pink in the low late afternoon sun beyond. The viewpoint, scenery, time of day, and atmospheric effects are all just as they appear in the scene conjured up in Darwin’s narrative of the Beagle’s arrival at the port in 1834. There is a companion view, looking in the opposite direction from high up on the Santiago road, in the collection of the Municipality of Valparaíso (Vista de Valparaiso, Palacio Baburizza, Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes de Valparaíso).

Views of this picturesque port, set like an amphitheatre on steep slopes above the Pacific Ocean, were popular with the elite of the port’s immigrant population throughout the 19th century, and provided good income for Somerscales, as they had for the artists who settled here before him, notably the Bavarian Johann Moritz Rugendas in the 1830s and 1840s, and Frenchman Ernest Charton in the 1860s.

The port of Valparaíso grew quickly after Chile won independence from Spain in 1818 and the country opened to international trade. It had a particularly cosmopolitan population, as European businessmen, diplomats, shipping and engineering companies set up for business in Chile. It was the base for the Republic of Chile's navy and the South America Station of the British Royal Navy between 1826 and 1838, protecting British interest in the South Pacific and on the American coast. It was the stopover for shipping rounding the Horn and transiting the Straits of Magellan, the export hub for Chile's vast copper deposits and later became the main supply centre for the Californian Gold Rush. As Chile's and the west coast of America's main port it thrived until the Panama canal opened in 1914. The port went into decline through the 20th century, but its historic quarter was made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993 in recognition of its role in early globalisation, and it was immortalised in the Chilean poet and occasional resident Pablo Neruda’s ‘Ode to Valparaíso’.

A native of Hull, and son of a sea captain, Somerscales first visited Chile when he was in the navy, serving in the Pacific Squadron, his ship Clio landing at Valparaíso at the end of 1864. It was when he was convalescing at Valparaíso from malaria caught in Panama that he left the navy and settled in Chile. He took up a career as an artist, taught English, mathematics, drawing and geography at the Artizan English School on Allegre hill above the bay of Valparaíso, and lived in the close-knit British community which became known as ‘La Colonia Britanica’. He won a silver medal for his three Chilean landscapes included in the Fine Arts section of the Chilean exhibition mounted in Santiago in 1872 (Exposición de Artes e Industrias), married in 1874, and was selling enough pictures to take his growing family to a large house and studio, built to his own designs, on Concepcion Hill just a few years later. Valparaíso was hit by a strong 'Norther' in 1875, which inspired Somerscales' first marine painting, of the corvette Esmerelda, in trouble in the deep anchorage off the port. The Chilean War of 1879 prompted demand for scenes of Chilean naval victories and Somerscales famously went on to excel in the genre of marine painting. After 29 years in Chile, Somerscales returned to England in 1892, settled back home in Hull, where he worked up large Chilean subjects and exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1893. His larger canvas ‘Off Valparaiso’ was bought off the walls of the Royal Academy in 1899 by the Chantrey Bequest and presented to the Tate Gallery (Tate N01773). He continued to visit and work in Chile, through to the early years of the 20th century, until the Great War persuaded him home for the last time in 1915.
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