Lord Nelson's final campaign to bring the French fleet to action and annihilate it proved both long and frustrating. From the moment he hoisted his flag in Victory in May 1803, he devoted all his waking hours to the task that lay ahead of him. Admiral Villeneuve, the French commander, had managed to combine the Spanish fleet with his own to bring a formidable thirty-three ships under his control against Nelson's total of twenty-seven. To compensate for this serious lack of numerical superiority, Nelson had evolved his celebrated plan to break the enemy line in two places - a radical departure from conventional tactics - and activated it as soon as the opposing fleets sighted each other off Cape Trafalgar on the morning of 21st October 1805. With the British ships formed into two columns, Nelson himself led the Weather Division in Victory whilst Vice-Admiral Collingwood, his second-in-command, spearheaded the Leeward Division in Royal Sovereign, 100-guns.
As the fleets closed for action, Rédoubtable, under the command of Captain Lucas, was located off the port side of Villeneuve's flagship Bucentaure between the two columns of the British fleet and in the heat of the action at the beginning of the conflict. Victory's assault on Rédoubtable's port side and the furious broadside from Téméraire's port guns created an inferno of epic proportions. It was little wonder that, Rédoubtable eventually struck her colours, she was - in her own captain's words - "so riddled that she seemed to be no more than a mass of wreckage". She had endured the most devastating and unequal exchange of broadsides in the entire battle and sustained very heavy casualties as a result. Despite the damage, she was - as a relatively new '74' - still a valuable prize and in the violent storm which followed the battle, the crew of H.M.S. Swiftsure made the most strenuous efforts to save her as well as those members of her crew still aboard the doomed ship. In the event, after five hours of unremitting effort, Rédoubtable sank at 10.15pm on 22nd October with a total loss of some 487 men either killed in the battle or drowned when she foundered. Captain Lucas, who was injured, was, himself, taken on board H.M.S. Swiftsure and after his release from capture was created Commandeur of the Legion of Honour by Napoleon for his role in the battle.
The present works were commissioned from the artist by Captain Lucas (1754-1819) to commemorate his part in the action aboard Rédoubtable. Born in Paris in 1772, Louis-Philippe Crépin was a pupil of both Joseph Vernet and Hubert Robert, whose influence can clearly be seen in the highly detailed works offered above. A French naval painter who recorded large scale naval battles and engagements, Crépin was one of the first French artists to be awarded the title of 'Peintres de la Marine' (Painter of the Fleet), awarded by the Minister of Defence in France to artists who have devoted their talents to the sea, the French Navy and other maritime subjects. His work is represented in the Musée National de La Marine in Paris and other private collections worldwide.