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Dominic Serres, R.A. (Auch, Gascony 1719-1793 London)
Dominic Serres, R.A. (Auch, Gascony 1719-1793 London)

The Blue Squadron of His Majesty's Fleet entering Havana harbour to take possession on 16th August 1762, led by H.M.S. Valiant commanded by the Honourable Augustus Keppel

Dominic Serres, R.A. (Auch, Gascony 1719-1793 London)
The Blue Squadron of His Majesty's Fleet entering Havana harbour to take possession on 16th August 1762, led by H.M.S. Valiant commanded by the Honourable Augustus Keppel
signed and dated 'D. Serres. 1767' (lower right)
oil on canvas
20 x 30 in. (50.8 x 76.2 cm.)
with The Rutland Gallery, London.

Alan Russett, Dominic Serres R.A., 1719-1793, War Artist to the Navy, Woodbridge, 2001, pp. 46-63, ill. col. pl. 16, p. 59.
London, The Rutland Gallery, Anthology of Painting in England, 1700-1860, November - December 1966.

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Lot Essay

The Seven Years War (1756-1763), regarded by many as the first truly global war, was predominantly a struggle for supremacy between the two major European powers of France and England. Despite numerous decisive British victories, Spain decided to enter the War as France's ally late in 1761 even though, by that time, England's sea, as well as her land forces were overwhelmingly superior. During this final phase of hostilities, the focus of attention shifted to the West Indies where both France and Spain still retained valuable colonial territories, any one of which was a major prize for the expanding British Empire. Sensing this scenario was inevitable, Prime Minister William Pitt had already dispatched reinforcements to the area the previous October, with the result that Rear-Admiral Rodney was able to mount a carefully planned campaign immediately after the formal declaration of war with Spain on 2nd January 1762. First to fall was the immensely rich sugar island of Martinique, the last remaining French outpost in the Caribbean, closely followed by St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada. Once these bases had capitulated, the way was clear for an attack on Cuba and Admiral Sir George Pocock, fresh from his successes off India and Ceylon, was chosen to lead the assault. Alongside Pocock were several members of the Keppel family, including Augustus Keppel who was appointed Pocock's second-in-command.

The huge expeditionary force made a rendezvous with Rodney's Leeward Islands Squadron at Cas de Navires Bay in recently captured Martinque. From there the convoy of twenty-two ships-of-the-line, thirty-one other warships and around 130 transports carrying troops and supplies took the Old Bahama Channel in order to achieve the greatest element of surprise. Incredibly difficult to navigate, the route was little frequented by shipping, and its use by such a large fleet would have been totally unexpected by the Spanish garrison at Havana. Over the coming weeks the British attacked the island from land and sea, culminating in the decisive action of 16th August, commemorated in this picture, when the fleet, led by Augustus Keppel in recognition of his distinguished leadership during the campaign, captured the harbour of Havana.

Among the men-o'war at the capture of Havana was the Orford (66- guns) under the command of Captain Marriot Arbuthnot. One of his lieutenants was Philip Orsbridge, who had been commissioned on 13th January 1758. From this seaward vantage point, Orsbridge recorded in drawings all the stages of the approach, siege and capture of the harbour.

After his return to London, and probably being paid off at the end of the war, Orsbridge decided to turn his sketches to his advantage by publishing them as a series of twelve commemorative prints. In this he was guided by the example of Richard Short, who had been present at Quebec in 1759 (where General Wolfe had died in the hour of victory) and had published a set of twelve prints from the drawings he had made on the spot. Orsbridge used the same production team with whom Short had been so successful and published the entire set of prints in the space of just over a year. Again, probably prompted by the quality of Serres's paintings from Short's drawings for the engravers to reproduce, Orsbridge retained him for his own series, for all twelve prints are inscribed 'Serres pinxit'. Serres completed the full set of pictures for Orsbridge by about the end of 1764. Whatever financial reward or fame Orsbridge may have received in producing these prints, however, was short-lived as he died in 1767.

The series proved hugely popular and helped establish Serres as one of the principal marine artists in London. As well as the series of oils Serres produced for the prints, he was also commissioned to paint many other pictures of the operation after their publication, with varying degrees of similarity to the original prints. The most comprehensive collection of these further paintings was commissioned by the Keppel family to commemorate their part in the action, and is now housed in the National Maritime Museum. Amongst them is a much larger, later variant of this painting, see Concise Catalogue of Oil Paintings in the National Maritime Museum, Woodbridge, 1988, ill. p. 355, no. BHC0414.

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