In October 1777, two years after the outbreak of the American War of Independence, the new United States' army gained its first notable success against British forces at Saratoga. In the wake of this humiliation, the major European powers, led by France, decided to ally themselves to the infant American republic in the hope of making territorial gains at England's expense and, following France's lead in 1778, most of Britain's neighbours had joined the alliance against her by 1781. One of the nations most anxious to regain some of its former maritime supremacy was the Netherlands and nine months after they entered the fray, opposing Dutch and English squadrons met in their only encounter of the War.
Neither squadron was intended to be a battle fleet; rather, both were escorting home valuable Baltic convoys when, totally unexpectedly, each sighted the other off the North Seas's Dogger Bank at daybreak on 5th August 1781. Unusually in any naval engagement, the opponents were of identical strength, with each squadron consisting of seven ships-of-the-line supported by, for the Royal Navy -- four frigates and one armed cutter and -- for the Dutch -- five frigates as well as, coincidentally, a single armed cutter. The English commander, Vice-Admiral Hyde Parker, ordered his convoy to set course for England and then manoeuvred his fleet before signalling for close action at about 8.00am. The British line bore down on the Dutch, under Rear-Admiral Zoutmann, and once joined, the battle raged for three-and-a-half hours, becoming increasingly desperate as neither side was able to gain the upperhand. Eventually exhausting themselves, the two squadrons drew apart without a decisive conclusion, the Dutch convoy having saved itself by running for shelter into the Texel estuary halfway through the battle. Had Hyde Parker's ships been fully manned and in better repair he would probably have won the day, as it was, the Royal Navy's best vessels were elsewhere, mostly in the West Indies, and there was also a critical shortage of trained seamen due to the extended nature of the War. Nevertheless, despite very high casualties on both sides, Parker at least succeeded in persuading the Dutch not to venture out of port again which, in itself, helped the Royal Navy in its efforts to defeat other enemy fleets across the globe.
There is a variant of this painting in the National Collection at Greenwich, see Concise Catalogue of Oil Paintings in the National Maritime Museum, Woodbridge, 1988, ill. p. 257, no. BHC0434.
It is likely, that the Captain of the 60-gun H.M.S. Buffalo, William Truscott, commissioned this painting to celebrate his part in the battle as she is the only ship that bears a name.
For a note on Thomas Luny, please see lot 39.